WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a one-week extension in funding for the federal government, a move aimed at giving lawmakers more time to hammer out agreements on spending bills and emergency economic relief.
Congressional leaders advanced the short-term extension in federal funding as negotiations over an emergency economic relief package appeared to falter and prospects of a major breakthrough dimmed. The measure passed by a 343-to-67 vote.
Appropriators have continued to make progress on a set of spending bills to fund federal agencies, with only a few outstanding policy issues left to be resolved by congressional leaders, aides involved in deliberations say. But talks on the broader stimulus package seemed at risk of breaking down after the White House on Tuesday proposed a relief bill that would offer only minimal benefits to unemployed Americans, a nonstarter for congressional Democrats.
The short-term spending bill is now expected to quickly move to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has signaled he will hold a vote ahead of Friday’s deadline. If President Donald Trump doesn’t sign the measure into law by midnight on Friday, a government shutdown would commence on Saturday morning.
A group of bipartisan senators trying to break the stimulus logjam has continued chipping away at divisive policy issues throughout the week. On Wednesday, they released a six-page summary of the outlines of a potential compromise.
The group has not yet released bill text and its summary left unresolved the two most contentious issues facing lawmakers – aid to state and local governments and protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits for businesses and other entities. Both of these issues have divided Congress for months. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., backed the initial $908 billion proposal as a starting point for negotiations, but McConnell has rejected the compromise framework.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s proposed relief package would offer a $600 stimulus check per person, including children, but would only extend minimal unemployment benefits. Democrats have ruled out accepting a deal that would not offer supplemental federal unemployment benefits.
In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Mnuchin said the stimulus checks would have a bigger impact on reviving the economy than robust unemployment benefits. However, the $600 benefit would offer far less financial relief to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs than the unemployment plan pushed by the bipartisan group. Jobless Americans would receive at least an additional $4,800 for each unemployed worker, compared with $600 per person in a family.
Mnuchin has released few details about his proposal, but it does not appear to extend the number of weeks people are eligible to be on unemployment programs. Elizabeth Pancotti, an economist at Employ America, said that suggests the two plans diverge by as much as $10,000 for the average unemployed worker.
“By sending out checks, we’re putting money into the economy for people. This will have the impact of creating demand, which will have the impact of creating jobs. We want to get people their jobs back,” Mnuchin said.
The urgency behind stimulus talks has accelerated amid signs of economic deterioration and hopes of attaching the relief package to the must-pass government spending bill. Several critical emergency programs are set to expire by the end of the year, including unemployment aid and rental protections for millions of people.
“Anybody who thinks if we let this moment pass we’d have another bill before late March hasn’t spent much time around this building,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, said on Tuesday. “We need to do this, and we need to do it now.”
McConnell on Wednesday blamed Democrats for the impasse, accusing Pelosi and Schumer for what he called a “schizophrenic” rejection of the White House offer. McConnell also repeatedly criticized the Democratic leaders for blocking unemployment aid, although the proposal he released last week contained no extension in federal unemployment benefits.