House easily passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, agreed to include continuing authority for President Trump to hand out subsidies for farmers in exchange for more money for nutrition aid for children. [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, agreed to include continuing authority for President Trump to hand out subsidies for farmers in exchange for more money for nutrition aid for children. [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

In a sweeping bipartisan vote that takes a government shutdown off the table, the House passed a temporary government-wide funding bill Tuesday night, shortly after President Donald Trump prevailed in a behind-the-scenes fight over his farm bailout.

The stopgap measure will keep federal agencies fully up and running into December, giving lame-duck lawmakers time to digest the election and decide whether to pass the annual government funding bills by then or kick them to the next administration. The United States government budget year ends September 30.

The 359-57 vote came after an agreement was reached giving the Trump administration continued authority to dole out Agriculture Department subsidies in the run-up to Election Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi retreated from an initial draft that sparked a furor with Republicans and farm-state Democrats.

Instead, in talks Tuesday, Pelosi restored the farm aid funding sought by the administration, which has sparked the ire of Democrats who say Trump plays political favorites with the bailout money for farmers and ranchers.

In return, Pelosi won COVID-related food aid for the poor, including a higher food benefit for families whose children are unable to receive free or reduced lunches because schools are closed. Another add-on would permit states to remove hurdles to food stamps and nutrition aid to low-income mothers.

The measure sped through the House after a swift debate that should ensure smooth sailing in the Republican-held Senate before next week’s deadline.

US farmers have been suffering from low commodity prices and the effects of higher trade tariffs imposed by President Trump. The president announced a new $13bn allotment of bailout funding at a political rally in Wisconsin last week. The provision Republicans seek would keep the door open for additional election-eve pronouncements.

Democrats complain that the Trump administration has favoured larger farm producers and Southern states such as Georgia – a key swing state and home of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue – in distributing bailout funds.

“The Trump administration has proven they cannot be trusted to distribute payments fairly,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Republican chairman of the Agriculture panel, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas was angry about the Democrats’ omission of the farm aid.

“I understand there are people upset with the secretary and what he has done or will do or whatever with regards to [farm] funding,” Roberts said.

“But this is desperately needed and there’s 45 to 50 programmes that would be in danger, right in the middle of the COVID thing, the farm crisis, and the whole business,” he said.

The stopgap funding bill came as negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief bill have collapsed and as the Senate has been thrust into an election-season Supreme Court confirmation fight after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, had told reporters that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats appeared to be ‘hung up’ on the issue of whether to include farm aid in the stopgap spending bill [Al Drago/Reuters]
Congressional aides close to the talks had depicted the farm provision as a bargaining chip to seek comparable wins for Democrats, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial requests for provisions related to the census and funding for states to help them carry out elections were denied by Republican negotiators.

At stake in the bill’s passage is nearly one-third of the federal government’s day-to-day budget that goes to cabinet agency operations funded by Congress.

The annual appropriations process broke down in the Senate earlier this year and it is unclear but probably unlikely that the $1.3 trillion in agency spending bills will be enacted this year, even in a post-election lame-duck session, especially if Joe Biden is elected to replace Trump.

In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to use government funding deadlines and must-past temporary funding bills as leverage to try to win concessions elsewhere on Washington’s agenda. Such efforts invariably have failed.

Republicans in 2013 used it in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent implementation of the so-called “Obamacare” healthcare law and Senate Democrats returned the favour in 2018 in a futile effort to force debate on permitting immigrants brought into the country illegally as children – “Dreamers” – to remain in the US.

Pelosi had said she would not attempt any such confrontation this year.

“We’re not about shutting down government,” Pelosi said Monday on MSNBC. “And it’s not a lever.”

The legislation, called a continuing resolution, would keep every federal agency running at present funding levels through December 11, which will keep the government afloat past the election.

The measure extends many programmes whose funding or authorisations would lapse on September 30, including the federal flood insurance programme, highway and transit programmes, and a long set of extensions of various health programmes – such as a provision to prevent Medicaid cuts to hospitals that serve many poor people.

It finances the possible transition to a new administration if Joe Biden wins the White House and would stave-off an unwelcome COVID-caused increase in health insurance costs for older Americans under Medicare.

Source: News Agencies

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