Senate

Senate GOP looks to stopgap as relief talks drag on

Top Senate Republicans indicated on Thursday that Congress is increasingly likely to need a days-long stopgap government funding bill as talks on a coronavirus package and mammoth funding deal drag out.

Congressional leaders and the Trump administration are working to clinch a massive package that would tie a roughly $900 billion coronavirus deal to a $1.4 trillion government funding package. They need to pass it by Friday night in order to prevent a shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that Congress would in all likelihood miss that deadline, saying on the Senate floor that a rare weekend session was “highly likely.”

“If we need to further extend the Friday funding deadline before final legislation can pass in both chambers, I hope we’ll extend it for a very, very short window of time,” McConnell said.

Asked as he was heading into the chamber if Congress would need to pass a continuing resolution (CR), he added: “We may.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters that it was “more of a real possibility” that a temporary CR would be needed.

“I would hope it wouldn’t be more than 24-48 hours. I really think this is coming to a close,” Thune told reporters.

Even if negotiators were able to get text of a deal on Thursday, the agreement would still need to be filed and passed by the House before it could be taken up by the Senate.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) predicted that if negotiators could get text on Thursday morning that would still mean the Senate likely wouldn’t finish its work until Saturday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) already floated the possibility of a CR on Wednesday, saying the House would pass a stopgap bill if they needed more time. 

“I’m against shutting down government,” Hoyer told reporters on a press call. “I think it is a stark admission of failure.”

The growing likelihood that Congress will need to pass another stopgap bill — their third of the year — comes as negotiators are still trying to iron out the final policy fights in the massive bill.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, described an agreement on the coronavirus as “close at hand.”

But McConnell added that negotiators now faced a choice of dragging out the talks or wrapping things up quickly.

“Do we want to haggle and spar like this was an ordinary political exercise, get wrapped around the actual language or policy riders that we know are controversial? Or, on the other hand, after months of inaction do we want to move swiftly and with unusual bipartisanship to close out or issues, seal the deal and write text that can quickly pass into law?” McConnell added.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that negotiators were moving closer.

“While many if not all of the difficult topics are behind us a few final issues must be hammered out. We’re very close to an agreement but the details really matter,” Schumer said. 

Negotiators are still haggling over a push to include Federal Emergency Management Agency money, which Republicans worry would be a back door for providing more funds to state and local governments and a push to include more for entertainment venues, a priority for Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) wants to include language in the coronavirus agreement to require that the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facilities shut down at the end of the year.

And Thune indicated that they are still looking at how to structure a second round of stimulus checks, expected to be around $600, including potentially lowering the income cap from the $75,000 cap included in the March CARES Act.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion about how to further restrict who gets it,” Thune said. He added that they were looking at “income, sort of, benchmarks and figuring out ways of I would say narrowing the number of people who would get the benefit of the check.”

Updated at 12:01 p.m.

Tags Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 John Thune Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey ppp Steny Hoyer stimulus checks

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