Trump signs short-term spending bill, preventing shutdown

Signature gives lawmakers an extra week to wrap up omnibus spending package, coronavirus relief

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.,  speaks at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 11, 2020 at 10:27am, Updated at 6:46pm

President Donald Trump signed into law a stopgap funding measure Friday to avert a partial government shutdown starting this weekend.

The Senate cleared the measure on a voice vote earlier in the day, but only after hours of backroom negotiations with senators who had threatened to hold up the spending Band-Aid to push action on various other priorities.

Leaders beat back efforts to attach measures over military policy, blocking lawmakers’ pay during a budgetary impasse and offering a new round of tax rebate checks to households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll fight another day on that,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who was pushing for a vote on a measure that would deny lawmakers their pay if spending bills weren’t passed on time.

Another holdup was averted when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., relented on his push to strip troop withdrawal language from the unrelated defense authorization bill. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., backed off a threat to hold up the bill if it didn’t include rebate checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

“I am prepared to withdraw my objection for this moment, but I will not be prepared to withdraw my objection next week,” Sanders said on the floor. “We’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays” without approving direct payments to households, he said.

The new stopgap law gives lawmakers an extra week to negotiate an omnibus spending package for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Current funding had been set to expire at midnight Friday. Lawmakers also want to attach to any omnibus whatever coronavirus relief can be negotiated in time.

‘No budget, no pay’

Braun and Rick Scott of Florida are the primary GOP backers of the “no budget, no pay” measure, which simply says that lawmakers can’t receive their salaries until Congress adopts a budget resolution and passes all the appropriations bills by the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee added a version of their bill as an amendment to a broader “automatic continuing resolution” bill authored by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., during a 2019 markup.

Braun told reporters Friday he and Scott had been pushing for a vote on the combined bill but then agreed to separate them out. The conference is split on “no budget, no pay,” with Republicans, including Paul and Utah Republican Mitt Romney, opposed.

Romney during the 2019 markup said that the measure probably wouldn’t hurt wealthier legislators like himself and Scott but that not all lawmakers were so well-situated. Added Paul: “I think in the end you’ll get a two-tiered system where the wealthy members will vote however they want to and you’ll put extra pressure on those who are middle-class.”

The Homeland Security panel’s chairman, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, initially opposed adding “no budget, no pay” because he didn’t want to threaten the popular automatic continuing resolution bill’s chances. Proponents of that underlying measure had discussed seeking a vote to add it to the one-week stopgap bill, but they seem to have backed off.

“From my standpoint, I didn’t want to … threaten shutting down the government to get a vote on my prevent government shutdown act,” Johnson said Friday. “That doesn’t sound like a real logical thing to do so.”

Paul said earlier Friday he would not block passage of the one-week stopgap over his desire to remove language from the defense authorization conference report that would restrict the president’s ability to withdraw or reduce troops overseas.

“Our main point in filibustering the defense authorization bill was to point out that the president should have the prerogative to end a war, not just to start wars,” Paul told reporters Friday. “I think it’s a pretty important principle to discuss, so we did hold things up for a day on that, but we're not going to on the CR,” he said.

The House passed the one-week spending bill Wednesday on a 343-67 vote. It extends current funding for all federal agencies through Dec. 18.

The stopgap bill would also extend for a week several health care programs that expire Dec. 11, including funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals and a handful of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement provisions. It would also delay for a week some $4 billion in scheduled payment cuts to hospitals with a high proportion of low-income patients.

Omnibus negotiations

Lawmakers now have a little bit of time, but not much, to negotiate the omnibus spending bill. That catchall measure, amounting to roughly $1.4 trillion, is needed because none of the 12 regular appropriations bills for federal agencies have become law.

While the stopgap legislation gives negotiators an extra week, in reality key decisions need to be made within the next few days in order to write the massive bill and get it to the floor of both chambers in time. Otherwise, yet another temporary funding measure will be needed next week.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said lawmakers were “very close” to resolving a major sticking point over emergency spending for veterans’ health care.

Appropriators in both chambers proposed exempting from statutory spending limits about $12.5 billion needed to pay for a program that gives certain veterans access to private health care outside the VA system.

Treating that money as emergency spending exempt from budget caps would free up additional funds that could be used for other nondefense programs. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Trump administration have expressed opposition to that move.

“I think we can see open field there, but maybe not,” the typically cautious Shelby told reporters Friday.

The omnibus could also include a coronavirus relief package, if lawmakers reach a bipartisan deal in time. A bipartisan group from both chambers have been fine-tuning a $908 billion relief plan, but the two parties have been at odds over whether to provide aid to state and local governments and whether to give employers liability protection from pandemic-related lawsuits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called again Friday for removing those two provisions from the aid package. “I propose setting aside both liability protections and state and local bailouts and making law where we agree,” he said on the floor.

And he criticized Democrats for insisting on state and local aid, saying some states have reported revenue increases, not declines.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer insisted again Friday that state and local aid remains vital. “There are a few states who don’t need the help, but many more states do,” the New York Democrat said. “Many more.”

And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a member of the bipartisan aid group, broke with McConnell to make a plea for state and local aid. “My state has seen a 33 percent decline in revenues,” she told reporters. “We’re a state that is really, really hurting right now.”

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Bridget Bowman, Lindsey McPherson and Doug Sword contributed to this report.