U.S. Congress to vote on stopgap funding bill as COVID-19 aid talks continue

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress will vote this week on a one-week stopgap funding bill to provide more time for lawmakers to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief and an overarching spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-run House of Representatives need to enact a government spending measure by Friday, when funding for federal agencies is set to expire. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hope to attach long-awaited COVID-19 relief to a broad $1.4 trillion spending bill, known as an omnibus.

Both sides are under mounting pressure to keep the government open and deliver a fresh infusion of coronavirus aid to families and businesses reeling from a pandemic that has killed 282,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work.

A group of emergency aid programs implemented in response to the pandemic, including additional unemployment benefits and a moratorium on renter evictions, is set to expire at the end of December.

But with success eluding negotiations on both spending and pandemic relief, McConnell and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said separately on Monday that the two chambers would vote this week on a measure to allow an additional week of talks.

Hoyer said in a tweet that the House would vote on Wednesday. McConnell said the Senate would take up the stopgap government spending measure “as soon as we get it.” He has pushed for a new coronavirus aid package of about $500 billion, while a bipartisan proposal that emerged a week ago totaled $908 billion.

“We have seen some hopeful signs of engagement from our Democratic colleagues. But we have no reason to think the underlying disagreements about policy are going to evaporate overnight,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

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Arguing for a “targeted” Republican aid package, McConnell said lawmakers agree on three points - extending unemployment benefits, helping small businesses and funding vaccines. He said lawmakers should “make law in the many places where we have common ground” and drop other demands.

A few minutes later on the Senate floor, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he was tired of hearing the “same old song” from McConnell. Schumer and Pelosi last week embraced the emerging $908 billion bipartisan framework as a basis for talks, abandoning the Democrats’ months-long insistence on at least double that amount.


A group of House and Senate lawmakers had been expected as early as Monday to issue a text of the bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill, which would provide economic support into the early months of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, which begins on Jan. 20.

But lawmakers and their staffs failed to finalize it over the weekend. They were stalled on provisions to help state and local governments, which Democrats want, and protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a top Republican priority.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who is involved in bipartisan COVID-19 relief negotiations, said lawmakers could drop both business protections and state and local aid to get a deal done. “That’s a possibility,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

In separate spending talks, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said he urged Pelosi on Monday to focus on areas where the two sides agree. “Look, there are a lot of things in your bill that we’re not going to take,” Shelby said he told the speaker. Pelosi’s office was not immediately available for comment.

In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said the spending negotiations were “making progress.”

The Trump administration also sounded an upbeat note.

“We are moving in the right direction, I think. We are getting closer,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in an online interview with The Washington Post.

Lawmakers enacted $3 trillion in aid earlier this year but have not been able to agree on fresh relief since April.

Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Gerry Doyle and Peter Cooney