Senate in final-hour negotiations to pass stop-gap spending bill, avert midnight shutdown

Efforts to pass a Defense spending authorization bill and coronavirus relief package are also stuck on Capitol Hill.

Updated: December 11, 2020 - 2:55pm

Senate leaders are locked in final-hour negotiations Friday to pass a short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown at midnight.

On Wednesday, the House passed a one week, stop-gap bill that would temporarily avoid a shutdown. It is now up to the upper chamber and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get such legislation passed.

Passing such as measure before midnight is just one of several pressing matters for Capitol Hill lawmakers, who must also pass the National Defense Authorization Act and try to pass a coronavirus relief package, as parts of the U.S. economy slows in the ninth month of the pandemic.

Congress has been tied up this week debating a new $900 billion coronavirus relief package that appeared to have the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

However, on Thursday, McConnell said through his office that he won't rally support for the bill in the GOP-controlled chamber because it includes $160 billion in state and local funds. McConnell has been a vocal opponent of state bailouts during the pandemic.

Moderate lawmakers including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Susan Collins, of Maine, have spent the week trading offers on the now-stalled $908 billion coronavirus relief package.

Democrats have been attempting to negotiate with McConnell's caucus by offering a slimmed down version of the five-year liability shield he supports for companies facing potential lawsuits related to the coronavirus in exchange for state bailout funds.

But the Republican has been firm on his objection to bailing out states, and appears to have the support of most of his caucus on his stance. Most GOP senators would have trouble supporting state bailouts and would prefer to see a more targeted approach to aid distribution.

If Congress avoids a government shutdown today, its next deadline will be December 18. Leaders from both chambers say they will not adjourn for the holidays without passing an aid package for the American people. The new congressional class will be sworn in on Jan. 3. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the current class will work up to and through Christmas to reach an agreement. 

"We cannot go home without it," she said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also been involved in discussions about the new aid package. The White House is advocating for a new round of $600 stimulus checks to be sent to Americans – a measure that is not included in the $908 billion package but is supported by progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley.

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