House OKs spending bill, sending legislation to Senate just days before government set to shutdown

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WASHINGTON – The House approved a government spending bill Tuesday in hopes of averting a government shutdown that would rock the country in eight days in the midst of a global pandemic.

The bill extends current government funding levels and would punt negotiations over a number of hot-button issues until Dec. 11 – a month after the election. The legislation saw some last-minute changes with billions for farmers and pandemic food assistance programs for families, additions that allowed the bill to pass with bipartisan support in a 359-57 vote, with a majority of Republicans voting with Democrats. One lawmaker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., voted present. 

It will now go to the Senate for approval, then, if approved, will head to the White House for President Donald Trump's signature. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal on the proposal just before the vote, highlighting funds for food assistance programs that Democrats had sought. 

"We have reached an agreement with Republicans on the CR to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families," she  said. "We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout."

The legislation, released on Monday, saw a hiccup after Republicans blasted the bill over the exclusion of aid for farmers, a top priority for the GOP and President Donald Trump. 

Republicans had been pushing for billions in assistance as part of a farm bailout program and in return, Democrats hoped for money in food assistance in the bill. But both items were not included when the spending bill was released, leaving the chances of the legislation passing up in the air and raising fears that the government could shutdown next week. 

More: White House and Congress reach informal deal to avert government shutdown at end of month

More: Pelosi says House will stay in session until coronavirus stimulus deal is reached, moderate lawmakers push for compromise

"House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the bill's text was released Monday. "This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America."

McConnell has yet to weigh in on the updated spending bill. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the senior Republicans in the Senate who represents agriculture-heavy Iowa, called the original bill "hogwash" and said Democrats should be "ashamed for leaving our farmers in the lurch." 

Democrats had criticized the loan program for farmers as a political slush fund with concerns over how money was being dolled out and whether politics was playing a role in what states saw more money.

The impasse led the House to press pause for several hours before taking up the legislation, allowing time for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to continue hammering out a compromise. The talks led to a bipartisan solution, adding $8 billion in increased spending on food-assistance programs and billions for the Commodity Credit Corporation, a borrowing program for farmers that has been utilized frequently due to the president's policies on trade and the pandemic's impacts on agriculture. 

The two additions marked the only large pandemic-related relief in the bill. While pressure has mounted for Congress to pass more COVID-19 relief, lawmakers appear unlikely to take up any other stimulus package ahead of the election, especially as partisan bickering has reached new levels over the Supreme Court nomination fight. 

Lawmakers in both parties, while happy in likely averting a shutdown next week, noted Tuesday evening that passing this bill, called a continuing resolution or CR, and keeping spending levels the same was a failure. They acknowledged that both sides are responsible to Americans in negotiating out spending for the federal government and had failed to do so. 

More: Coronavirus stimulus plans: What we know about the negotiations over relief

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 go on furloughs or without pay.

Trash piled up at national parks, air travel was disrupted and repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope were delayed. Even tax revenue decreased. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated tax revenue was down $2 billion in 2019 because the IRS had halted some operations during the shutdown.  

But a shutdown this year would have a ripple effect unlike those before it, experts said. 

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


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