Covid-19 relief talks at critical time amid threat of impending shutdown

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While there are signs of progress on state and local aid in the bipartisan relief talks, the outlook is still grim for Congress to secure a deal that both sides can live with, be drafted quickly and stalled. by Congress – then on the desk of a mercurial. President who played no role in the negotiations but who can overthrow them at any time.

Friday is proving to be a critical day on two fronts: both on the Covid relief talks and to prevent the government from shutting down for the fourth time since President Donald Trump’s tenure.

At midnight, the government will shut down in the absence of an agreement for a quick vote on a funding bill to keep federal agencies open for an additional week. Because any senator can oppose to prevent a quick vote, McConnell needs the full cooperation of the 100 senators to plan a vote on a continuing resolution, or CR, in order to maintain government funding until the 18th. December.
In other words, members have maximum leverage right now and they are using it.

Sanders and Paul

At the start of the day on Friday, there were two major problems: the Sense. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, an independent from Vermont, wants a vote on a $ 350 billion bill he worked out with Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, to deliver a new round of stimulus checks of up to $ 1,200 for people below a certain income threshold.

When asked if he would let the Continuing Resolution, or CR, pass a quick vote if he doesn’t get a commitment to have the bill considered, Sanders said Thursday night, “Let’s play it. the ear. We’ll play it by I’ll do my best to make sure we don’t get out of here unless this bill goes through. ”

GOP leaders blame him in part for delaying a CR vote. Sanders said angrily, “They can blame me for anything they want. But millions of people back home will blame this Congress for inaction in letting their children go hungry or be evicted. This is where the blame lies in this Congress. . ”

Paul, the Republican of Kentucky, is the other problem for GOP leaders. It is slowing down consideration of a $ 740 billion defense bill about to be passed by the Senate by a veto-proof majority after the House defied Trump’s veto threat and dismissed his fears of not attacking social media companies, an issue that has nothing to do with Pentagon politics.

Paul is concerned that the bill, in his opinion, will tie Trump’s hands to draw forces from Afghanistan, blaming his longtime nemesis, GOP Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, for the inclusion of the language. He wants GOP leaders to postpone the vote until next week, presumably to allow Trump to postpone issuing his veto until the end of the year around the Christmas holidays, when it could be longer. difficult for lawmakers to go back to Washington and cancel it.

“We proposed to allow all votes to take place today if the final NDAA vote is postponed until Monday,” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill, referring to the bill’s acronym.

GOP leaders have none of this, with the Senate on the brink of defeating its attempted filibuster on Friday morning. But if Paul doesn’t accept the speedy passage of the defense bill after his obstruction is defeated, he could postpone the final vote until Saturday, effectively delaying the CR vote until then at the earliest unless ‘he doesn’t agree on this point. Even if the defense vote slips through to Saturday, McConnell would need the full cooperation of all 100 senators to plan a vote on the gap-hole – or the shutdown would persist until he takes the tedious steps to cross. the procedural obstacles necessary to arrive at a final vote.

Still, GOP leaders are confident that on Friday everyone will fall into the line and agree to pass the one-week continuous resolution and avoid a shutdown, for now.

Paul told CNN mid-morning on Friday that he would pass up funding for the interim measure later today, which could avoid the shutdown. Paul explained that his main goal was to delay the defense bill for one day.

“Our main goal in filibustering the Defense Authorization Bill was to stress that the president should have the prerogative to end a war, not just start wars,” Paul said. “Neoconservatives like Liz Cheney are inconsistent in saying they want ‘Oh, I’m going to give the Commander-in-Chief the powers to start a war’, but then they want to prevent and prevent a president from ending a war. I think this is a fairly important principle to discuss. So, we delayed things for a day on this, but we are not going on the (continuing resolution). ”

Blocking points on the stimulus

The snafu on the landing portends the challenges ahead for much more thorny issues – namely over a Covid relief plan that has plagued Congress for several months, in addition to the $ 1.4 trillion omnibus bill for fund the federal government until September 2021, a massive proposal both sides struggled to finalize, prompting leaders to try to pass the week-long continuous resolution.

Before we get to the many issues ahead, there is a positive sign for the bipartisan group of Senators and MPs (who call themselves the “908 Coalition” on the basis of the $ 908 billion bill they ‘they elaborate) as they fought to finalize a deal. They are expected to release legislation on their $ 160 billion deal to help states and cities hit hard by the pandemic on Friday, resolving a key sticking point, aides said.

But there’s a big problem: Most GOP senators hate this aid – and McConnell warned that most Republicans will not support it, which means the Senate is unlikely to pass.

In an attempt to soften the GOP’s backlash to the provision, the bipartisan group has tried to strike a deal on something McConnell wants: liability protections for businesses, workers, universities and others. entities threatened by legal action during the pandemic. But this has proven to be the biggest sticking point given the resistance many Democrats have to the idea, and the two sides have traded proposals that have yet to satisfy negotiators.

As a result, McConnell proposed dropping both elements – liability protections as well as state and local support – and focusing only on the things they agree on, such as money for vaccine distribution, small business loans and potentially jobless benefits. His associates have told executives on both sides that McConnell sees no way to reach an agreement that the group will come to on both counts.

“They just won’t be able to thread the needle,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune said of the bipartisan group of lawmakers working to negotiate a peace protections deal. accountability – one of the two controversial issues that prevent a deal. “This is my point of view, and maybe I’m wrong and I hope I am. ”

The liability provisions are a “really complicated” subject, Thune said, “this is going to take time” that senators do not have to resolve.

However, Senate negotiators are not yet ready to abandon these elements.

“I am optimistic that we can still work out these two provisions. We had a good meeting today with additional discussions, so I’m not yet ready to give up removing them, ”Republican Senator Susan Collins said Thursday evening.

Yet even if the group comes to an agreement, there is no guarantee that it will pass or become law. And if McConnell tries to push forward a smaller proposal instead, there’s no guarantee the Democrats will allow him to pass the Senate let alone the House.

The way forward for the stimulus is as blurry as it has ever been. The good news for Americans waiting for relief is that Congress is working on schedule and next week the pressure will escalate again. Helpers working on it are hoping something might come off over the weekend. And Pelosi insisted that the House could extend its session until Christmas week if necessary.

But time is running out – and the legislative process takes a number of days, especially if they do not get Senate cooperation, which they almost certainly will not do.

This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.

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