House passes stopgap funding bill shortly after bipartisan deal

Continuing resolution would add back dropped farm payments as well as expanded nutrition assistance for low-income households

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., was among those pushing party leaders to restore farm aid in the stopgap measure. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., was among those pushing party leaders to restore farm aid in the stopgap measure. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 22, 2020 at 7:14pm, Updated at 8:17pm

The House swiftly passed a stopgap funding measure needed to avert a partial government shutdown in eight days after top congressional leaders reached a deal resolving a fight over farm payments.

On a lopsided vote of 359-57, the House sent to the Senate a revised continuing resolution that would extend current funding for all federal agencies through Dec. 11. 

The bipartisan pact would restore money for farm payments sought by lawmakers from both parties that House leaders had rejected in an earlier stopgap measure introduced Monday. It also would restore new money for a pandemic-related program funding subsidized meals to children who would normally receive them when schools are open, among other nutrition assistance, Democrats said.

“We have reached an agreement with Republicans on the CR to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

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The measure includes new provisions that would extend pandemic-related flexibilities in the food stamp program for another year and expand the school meals program to those attending child care centers that were closed because of the pandemic, among other things.

The agreement also contains language Pelosi said would prevent "funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout," after earlier reports surfaced that the administration has been planning to divert Commodity Credit Corporation funds to refiners.

"The last thing the United States needs right now, in the midst of a pandemic, is a lapse in government funding that was set to expire at the end of this month," Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said during floor debate. "I'm extremely disappointed that it took us this long to get the CCC, Commodity Credit Corporation, replenished in this agreement and not held hostage by the majority."

The CR is expected to clear the Senate by early next week. If, as also expected, President Donald Trump signs the bill, it would spare the country a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, in the midst of a pandemic and just over a month out from the elections.

Congress has not passed any of the dozen regular appropriations bills that would otherwise be needed by then.

The stopgap measure would mostly continue the current funding levels for federal agencies through Dec. 11, though some adjustments, or "anomalies," are included for special circumstances.

Lawmakers will try to hammer out deals on some $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2021 spending in a lame-duck session after the elections, but that will be a tall order particularly if the levers of power in Washington change. And a nasty Supreme Court confirmation battle, coupled with potential renewed wrangling over COVID-19 relief, doesn't make the task any easier.

Farm dispute

A mostly partisan impasse over farm payments had threatened to derail plans by House Democratic leaders to push through their own continuing resolution earlier Tuesday. Leaders delayed plans for a floor vote to allow bipartisan negotiations to resume.

[Stopgap funding back on track, House vote possible Tuesday night]

Democratic leaders had balked at a push by the Trump administration and lawmakers to pump more than $20 billion into the Commodity Credit Corporation to make more payments to farmers and ranchers suffering from coronavirus-related losses and a trade war with China.

The new deal came after pushback from farm-state Democrats against party leaders' move to strip the CCC funds. The administration says without replenishment in the continuing resolution, the agency could hit its $30 billion borrowing cap and be unable to make payments under 2018 farm bill programs.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated last week that once October payments are made, resources would dry up without further action from Congress.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., a freshman who knocked off a GOP incumbent two years ago, tweeted Tuesday that taking farm spending authority out of the stopgap was a "partisan move that slows down much-needed relief for farmers and agribusinesses."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said Monday that the farm money has been used as a “slush fund” for favored political interests, including oil refiners.

Other Democrats had also picked up on that talking point after Reuters reported earlier this month that the Trump administration had considered diverting up to $300 million in CCC funds to refiners who were denied waivers from costly renewable fuels quotas. Reuters reported late Monday that the tentative plan had been shelved.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he didn't know anything about such a plan. "There’s nothing that we can find in there for Big Oil, or small oil, or anything," he said.

The House Agriculture Committee's top Republican, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, had tried Monday to offer an amendment that would restore both the farm payments and the school nutrition program extension, but was blocked by Rules Committee Democrats.

"This is cash flow to mom and pop businesses all over rural America," Conaway said Tuesday. "They've been expecting these payments for a year … they come like clockwork. This year should be no different."

Hitching a ride

The stopgap measure also includes numerous reauthorizations for programs that would otherwise lapse at the end of September, such as the National Flood Insurance Program and surface transportation spending.

The resolution mostly extends current programs while forbidding new projects. But it would permit an anomaly for the Navy to spend $1.6 billion in fiscal 2021 for a down payment to start building the first of a dozen new Columbia-class nuclear-missile submarines, a fraction of its $14.4 billion estimated procurement cost.

The anomaly allows the Navy to avoid a delay in replacing the 14 Ohio class nuclear-missile submarines, which are expected to start phasing out due to age in about a decade.

And the stopgap would provide a new cash infusion for transportation programs, while giving new life to an expiring highway authorization law. The measure includes $13.6 billion for highways and mass transit, and another $14 billion for aviation programs.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the stopgap measure, as initially drafted by House Democrats, would slightly reduce deficits over the next decade, though the fiscal 2021 shortfall would jump by $89.5 billion. That's mostly due to a provision delaying repayment of certain Medicare reimbursements as well as the Part B premium reduction. That money would flow back to the Treasury over time.

Lindsey McPherson, Paul M. Krawzak and Doug Sword contributed to this report.