WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved and President Donald Trump signed a one-week budget stopgap Friday that avoids a government shutdown and allows lawmakers to continue negotiations over getting pandemic relief to millions of Americans.
The Senate passed the measure by voice vote days after the House of Representatives approved the so-called continuing resolution, which extends current funding for all federal agencies through December 18. Trump signed it Friday evening, the White House said, hours ahead of a midnight deadline that would have seen funding for federal operations dry up.
The one-week reprieve averts-for now-the stunning prospect of a government shutdown even as the country endures spiking COVID-19 infections and deaths without new economic relief for families and businesses struggling through the pandemic. Lawmakers now have extra time to craft a rescue package, which many have sought to include in a sweeping omnibus spending bill. But bickering over reaching a deal on pandemic relief and federal funding for fiscal year 2021, which began October 1, is setting up an intense final few days of legislative work before the Christmas holiday.
The temporary fix had faced multiple procedural threats, including from an unlikely duo, conservative Senator Josh Hawley and far-left Senator Bernie Sanders. Both are seeking a new round of rebate checks sent directly to Americans as part of any pandemic relief package. Sanders on Friday backed off his threat to delay the stopgap unless it includes rebate checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. “I am prepared to withdraw my objection for this moment, but I will not be prepared to withdraw my objection next week,” Sanders warned colleagues on the floor.
“We’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays” unless direct payments to households are agreed to, he added. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been working to finesse a $908 billion stimulus plan that includes new unemployment aid, help for state and local governments, and limited liability protections for businesses. But party leaders remain at loggerheads over the package, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting the current package is unworkable because he wants a broader liability shield for businesses vulnerable to coronavirus-linked lawsuits.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said it was “mindboggling” for McConnell to make such a demand as millions of Americans face the worst economic downturn in decades and the greatest public health crisis in a century. Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signalled Thursday that she might keep lawmakers in Washington, even beyond Christmas if needed, until a stimulus deal is reached. -AFP