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Politics Congressional leaders clash on measure to sidestep election-year shutdown

20:26  18 september  2020
20:26  18 september  2020 Source:   politico.com

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Congressional leaders on Friday were struggling to reach a deal to keep the government open through the November election, clashing on when the stopgap spending bill should expire and which funding and policy exceptions should be included.

a man sitting in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Thursday that the December date is “non-negotiable.” © (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP) Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Thursday that the December date is “non-negotiable.”

Republicans have pushed for a Dec. 18 end date for the stopgap, which would tee up a spending standoff during a lame-duck session of Congress, possibly in the middle of a presidential transition. Democrats have wanted to extend government funding until Feb. 26 — a more advantageous end date if they seize control of both chambers this fall.

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House leaders have said they want to vote next week on the continuing resolution, despite a lack of agreement on major issues. The measure would drag current government funding levels past Sept. 30 and buy more time for negotiations on a slate of fiscal 2021 spending bills.

Democrats are fighting for a contentious provision that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. They’ve argued that it would ensure an accurate 2020 census, while noting that Senate Republicans like Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) have already endorsed legislation to this effect.

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Democrats have also pushed for $3.6 billion in election security grants. Republicans want an anomaly requested by the White House, which Democrats oppose, that would ensure farmer bailout payments can keep flowing through the Commodity Credit Corporation, which otherwise would soon run into its $30 billion borrowing limit.

Despite the discord with less than two weeks until a federal funding lapse, lawmakers and White House officials have signaled that a catastrophic government shutdown — which would throw the country into further turmoil during the pandemic just before the presidential election — isn’t a concern.

Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Thursday that the December date is “non-negotiable.”

“The cleaner it is, the quicker it will be,” he said of provisions that could be tacked onto the continuing resolution.

Even if the stopgap lasts until December, lawmakers could still punt the government funding deadline into early next year if there’s little appetite for bipartisan negotiations on a massive appropriations package in the weeks after the election.

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“If it ends in December, then it could go either way,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the subcommittee that oversees military construction funding, on Thursday.

“We could negotiate in earnest and finish before we adjourn for the year,” she said. “I think a lot of it is dependent on the outcome of the presidential election ... There are a lot of balls in the air that are being juggled right now, a lot of uncertainty.“

If a “blue wave” materializes this fall and Congress punts appropriations action into early next year, Democrats might have the opportunity to pack annual spending bills with their priorities and divvy up overall government funding totals with little interference from Republicans. They could also seek to revive an earmark-like system that would allow members to secure cash for some pet projects at home, while instituting new rules to boost transparency.

But Democrats would still be constrained by a two-year budget deal struck last summer that set overall funding limits for fiscal 2021. That budget accord only provided a $2.5 billion boost for the military and a $2.5 billion increase for nondefense programs over fiscal 2020 levels, capping the totals at $740.5 billion and $634.5 billion, respectively.

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The short-term spending patch — which is traditional in an election year — comes after House Democrats finalized almost all of their annual spending bills, ultimately passing two packages that would have taken care of most government funding in fiscal 2021. But the Senate never started its appropriations process, with Democrats and Republicans mired in disagreements over whether to tack on coronavirus aid, police reform measures and more.

Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on a broad swath of spending issues, meaning it would be a huge lift for the House and Senate to compromise on a dozen appropriations bills to boost agency budgets before the holidays.

The continuing resolution, if it lasts through early next year, is once again expected to block a cost-of-living adjustment that could have given members a pay boost next year. The pay bump has long been a priority for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) after nearly a decade of salary stagnation, which he has argued hurts less wealthy members.

Despite an already-booming Atlantic hurricane season and catastrophic wildfires blanketing the West Coast, lawmakers aren’t planning to combine a stopgap with a separate disaster relief package.

Such a move could ramp up the already dramatic task of avoiding a government shutdown or draw the ire of President Donald Trump, who has previously inflated the amount of disaster relief cash flowing to Puerto Rico and blamed California wildfires on the failure of state officials to clear away leaves, rather than climate change.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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usr: 0
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