Trump signs two-day stopgap funding bill, averts shutdown

Negotiators have the weekend to try to pass a massive spending bill with coronavirus relief attached

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conducts a news conference in the Capitol after the Senate Republican policy luncheon in Washington on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/POOL)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conducts a news conference in the Capitol after the Senate Republican policy luncheon in Washington on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/POOL)
Posted December 18, 2020 at 4:41pm, Updated at 10:22pm

President Donald Trump on Friday night signed a very short-term spending bill to avoid a midnight government funding lapse, as negotiators continued to hash out a massive omnibus spending and coronavirus relief package.

The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote after several potential objections fell away. The House passed the bill earlier on a 320-60 vote, eclipsing the two-thirds required under suspension of the rules, after Texas Republican Chip Roy scuttled plans for a quick voice vote by asking for a recorded vote.

The weekend funding extension buys lawmakers a little more time to pass the $1.4 trillion fiscal 2021 omnibus appropriations bill, which is expected to carry a roughly $900 billion COVID-19 aid measure and a smattering of unrelated legislation.

The omnibus was still hung up on several disputed parts of the aid bill on Friday night, however.

"I believe all sides feel we're making good progress," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the Senate vote. "But alas, we are not there yet." 

McConnell then adjourned the Senate until 11 a.m. on Saturday. On Thursday, he put senators on notice they'd be in session through the weekend voting on nominations while waiting for a final spending bill.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said after the House vote that while he was hopeful negotiators could reach agreement in the “near future" on the COVID-19 aid piece, there were still “some significant outstanding issues.” The earliest the House would vote on the legislation is Sunday at 1 p.m., he announced.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said earlier Friday that final negotiations plus the time it takes to get a bill done could drag the timeline into next week. “I was thinking the best-case scenario of getting something voted on was going to be Sunday, but it might be later than that,” he said.

Objections to quick Senate passage thinned out one by one, with Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., letting the measure go through on a voice vote after promising to object to any omnibus package without "substantial" direct payments to U.S. households.

The emerging compromise was expected to provide payments of roughly $600 per person, which is half of what Sanders has been seeking. After the Senate vote, he declined to say whether "substantial" would describe the lower figure, saying only: "I've said what I said."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., had also been holding out for assurances that direct payments to households would be included in the final coronavirus relief bill. But Hawley tweeted just before the House vote that his demands have been met and he was no longer planning to object to the temporary funding measure.

“I have been assured by Senate GOP leadership that #COVID direct assistance to working people IS in the #covid relief bill under negotiation & will remain. And on that basis, I will consent to a brief continuing resolution to allow negotiations to conclude,” he wrote.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a frequent objector on spending legislation, also decided not to object this time.

While Hawley later seemed appeased enough not to try to force a shutdown, earlier he aired grievances with the way leadership has handled the negotiations, a sentiment shared by many of his colleagues.  

“It’s beginning to reach a point of absurdity,” he said. “It’s time for them to brief members on what they got. And I want to know what’s in this package and it better include direct assistance that’s a substantial amount, but at this point I have no earthly idea.”

'Very, very close'

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy before the stopgap vote told reporters that negotiators were “very, very close to getting an agreement.” But there were clearly some major outstanding issues left to be resolved.

Democrats on Friday charged that Republicans were holding up the entire package over their insistence on ending Federal Reserve lending authority funded through the $2 trillion March aid package.

Republicans led by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., argued the lending facilities should sunset on Dec. 31 as the March law calls for, though Democrats argued the law allows Treasury and the Federal Reserve to extend them.

Democrats say taking those tools away would hamstring President-elect Joe Biden's economic recovery plans, while Republicans say they fear the Fed could use the funding to deliver aid to states and localities that wasn't intended and result in taxpayer losses.

Hoyer told reporters Friday evening the issue shouldn’t even be part of the COVID-19 discussions. “It is totally political, and in my opinion, a putrid political effort to diminish President Biden's authority,” he said.

Nonetheless Hoyer said Democrats have made an offer to try to resolve the issue, which he declined to elaborate on.

There was also a sticking point over tax deductibility for expenses paid for with forgiven loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The Treasury Department was pushing back against lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who wanted to preserve those deductions, which Treasury argues they shouldn't receive because these companies were already getting a government benefit.

The American Institute of CPAs on Friday came out against a proposed compromise that would allow deductibility for expenses funded through forgiven loans below a certain dollar amount.

"The vast majority of PPP borrowers requested the loan in good faith and in the face of great financial uncertainty," AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon said in a statement. "This proposal splits PPP borrowers into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups and distracts Congress from its important work of getting relief to small businesses and their employees."

Paul M. Krawzak, Lindsey McPherson and David Lerman contributed to this report.