If it weren’t for the coronavirus and the start of the vaccination program against it the top news story would probably be the fact that Congress still can’t reach a final agreement to keep the government from shutting down. As we indicated in last week’s update, they had to pass another one-week Continuing Resolution (CR) last Friday in order to give them more time to try and pass the needed legislation.
The CR will fund the government through this coming Friday, Dec. 18, at the same level as fy2020 funding. If they still can’t reach an agreement it is likely they will pass another CR that will go to the end of the year. That would give them time to go home for Christmas and then return to Washington to continue trying to reach a final agreement.
It they can’t do that they will have to pass a longer CR which would take the funding issue well into January of next year and the new Congress will have to deal with it as its first order of business.
The funding of President Trump’s border wall, which is part of the funding for the Department of Homeland Security, had been a major sticking point but that has apparently been resolved.
Another major hurdle was about how to classify $12.5 billion in veterans’ health spending through the VA Mission Act — legislation that Trump himself has championed. The chairmen/women of the Congressional committees that deal with government funding originally agreed to classify that money as “emergency spending” because then it would not violate the overall spending limits Congress has previously agreed to.
That would have allowed them to preserve what small increases are allowed in fiscal 2021 non-defense spending and spread that money elsewhere, while avoiding cuts to popular programs that would follow if they had to accommodate veterans’ health cost increases as non-emergency spending. But House Republicans objected to that arrangement.
Then on Monday there was a report that Congressional negotiators were closing in on a government spending bill agreement after keeping the funding for Veterans Affairs Mission Act under the $1.4 trillion budget cap, a significant victory for the House Republicans who insisted on this provision, according to two congressional aides.
The $12.5 billion for VA health care improvements will now be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget. However, one Democratic aide said the funds used to pay for the program were gimmicks that do not harm spending in vital programs.
So even as this is being written there are reports coming that Congressional leaders are close to a deal on both the legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year as well as a new coronavirus economic stimulus bill.
We will all know if they were able to reach and agreement and get their job done by the end of this coming Friday. However, President Trump’s position on this is not clear. While Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has been in on the discussions of the legislation the President has not said where he stands.
If he should choose to veto the bill all bets are off as to what would happen next.