Topline

The Senate and House of Representatives returned to session today with just two weeks to spare before a government shutdown deadline on December 11 and without any progress—or significant prospects—toward agreement on a new coronavirus relief bill. 

Key Facts

Appropriators reached a topline agreement on spending levels last week, but roadblocks remain, including opposition from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and a disagreement over $2 billion that Republicans want to allocate for President Trump’s border wall, not to mention the possibility that Trump might be reluctant to sign the bill.

If those issues can’t be resolved in time to pass an omnibus spending package, which both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) want, lawmakers can pass a short-term continuing resolution to punt the issue to 2021 after Biden takes office.  

Lawmakers could also wrap more coronavirus relief measures into an omnibus spending package, but they’d first need to agree what the aid would look like before the December 11 deadline. 

As the virus surges and the labor market cools, Congress is facing pressure from all sides to pass another round of emergency relief, which experts generally agree is necessary to stave off more economic damage over the winter months before a vaccine is made widely available.

Also at stake in the coming days is the confirmation of controversial Trump nominee Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board, which McConnell could attempt to revive in the Senate after a failed vote last week, and a final blitz of confirmation hearings for Trump judicial nominees in the Senate.

Tangent

An informal, bipartisan group of lawmakers including Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is working to revive coronavirus stimulus negotiations on Capitol Hill after months of gridlock, Politico reported Monday, but it’s not clear how much the group could accomplish since there’s no indication that either Pelosi or McConnell is prepared to change their position. Democrats under Pelosi are pushing for a larger, more comprehensive package while Republicans, led by McConnell, favor more targeted legislation. 

Key Background

The National Association of Attorneys General Monday sent a letter to leaders in Washington urging them to extend restrictions placed on CARES Act relief funding beyond the end of the year. “This time frame likely made sense in late March when the CARES Act was passed, but we have learned a great deal about Covid-19 in the past seven months,” the AGs wrote. “Among other things, we know that the pandemic will continue to challenge communities well beyond December 30, 2020—a deadline that now seems unreasonable.” That’s not the only expiration date on the horizon: Two crucial pandemic programs will expire the day after Christmas, leaving 12 million without benefits—unless Congress acts to extend them. Pandemic tax credits for business will come off the books at the end of 2020, and forbearance for federal student loan borrowers will end.  

What To Watch For

Lawmakers will finish the current sessions of Congress without knowing which party will control the Senate under President Biden. Two runoff elections in Georgia in January will determine whether Democrats gain control of that chamber or whether Republicans retain their majority. 

Further Reading

A Government Shutdown Is Just Days Away—Here’s What That Means For Stimulus Funding (Forbes)

Pelosi And McConnell Want An Omnibus Spending Bill To Avert Government Shutdown, White House Chief Of Staff Says He ‘Can’t Guarantee’ It Will Happen (Forbes)

Senate Republicans Release $1.4 Trillion Spending Plan—Without Covid-19 Relief—Ahead Of December 11 Government Shutdown Deadline (Forbes)

Congress returns with virus aid, federal funding unresolved (Associated Press)

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