US members of Congress are likely to miss the deadline to pass a funding bill and avert an imminent government shutdown, several lawmakers have shared. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer warned representatives and senators from their parties that they might have to stay over the weekend to continue negotiations and possibly vote for a bill.
"The Senate is not going anywhere until we have COVID relief out the door. We're staying right here until COVID relief is out the door. […] So for the information of all my colleagues, we should expect continuing votes on nominations throughout the weekend", McConnell said.
The main body of the funding bill has been successfully negotiated, McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby confirmed. However, differences remain over the parameters of the coronavirus relief part of the document. McConnell suggested that a final deal is "close"; however, other lawmakers indicate several stumbling blocks on the path to it.
The key point of concern is that spending might exceed the $900 billion planned for the relief efforts. GOP lawmakers are trying to limit the funding that can be acquired via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which they fear could be used by the Democrats as a backdoor for additional spending. Arguments are also continuing over the size of the relief cheques for US citizens and the margin of income when the payments should be made. Republican Senator John Thune seeks to lower the margin below the current level of $75,000 and limit the cheques to $600, while Democrat Bernie Sanders wants to keep the margin and boost the payments to April's level of $1,200 per person.
"There’s still just a lot of loose ends we’re trying to tie down. [...] It is a little bit of whack of mole, whack it here and something else pops up. There’s a lot of interaction between the moving parts of all this", Republican Senator John Thune explained.
Some lawmakers are considering passing a stopgap bill to provide temporary funding and avoid a government shutdown should no agreement be reached by Monday. However, not all congresspeople agree with this. Senator Thune has threatened to sabotage a stopgap bill should no broader agreement be achieved over the weekend.
The coronavirus relief efforts are tied to the US funding bill, meaning that without finding common ground on the relief efforts, members of Congress won't be able to provide sustainable funding for the government. They have been trying to find a compromise since the end of summer, but so far the CARES Act adopted in April has been the only economic help Washington has managed to negotiate and provide to its citizens and businesses, who are struggling to stay afloat amid a drop in economic activity in the country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. The new round of relief has become an increasingly pressing issue, as some states have started going into a new round of lockdowns amid a second wave of infections, with the number of cases surging over the past few months.