WASHINGTON – The Senate is preparing Wednesday to vote on a spending measure to keep federal agencies running just hours before the government is set to shut down.
The legislation, which is expected to pass in a largely bipartisan vote, wouldthen go to President Donald Trump, who is expected to give final approval to the bill. The federal annual spending bill expires at midnight, meaning Congress has to act Wednesday in order keep the government open.
A government shutdown in the midst of a global pandemic could be devastating as many Americans struggling financially because of COVID-19 are more reliant on the federal government.
The bill will extend current government funding levels until Dec. 11 – a month after the election.
Lawmakers added last-minute pandemic relief funding before the bill was approved in the House Sept. 22, which gave it bipartisan support. The bill includes billions for a farm bailout program pushed by Republicans as farmers continue to be affected by Trump’s trade policies and the pandemic’s impact on agriculture. Democrats were able to get more money – $8 billion – for pandemic food assistance programs for families.
The two additions marked the only pandemic-related relief in the bill. While pressure has mounted for Congress to pass more COVID-19 relief, lawmakers have been at an impasse for months over the size and scope of a stimulus bill. Negotiations appeared all but dead earlier this month, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have restarted talks.
House Democrats introduced another coronavirus stimulus bill proposal on Monday with a $2 trillion price tag. It is not expected to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The last government shutdown from Dec. 2018 to Jan. 2019 was the longest on record, at 35 days long. Stemming from a standoff between Congress and the White House over funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, it forced about 800,000 federal government workers to take furloughs or go without pay.
But a shutdown this year would have come as the nation wrestles with a deadly pandemic, which has already taken 200,000 American lives.
Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University and a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said it would be a “catastrophic blow” to have a shutdown in the middle of the pandemic, especially if workers at agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health were furloughed.
But “nobody really wants to be blamed for the government shutdown,” especially so close to an election, she said.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu