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Pelosi, Mnuchin plan ‘clean’ CR, but length, other details unclear

Neither party sees political advantage in risking a partial government shutdown just ahead of the elections

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing Tuesday.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

An agreement between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to pursue a “clean” stopgap spending measure significantly reduces the chances of a government shutdown at month’s end but leaves most other funding questions unanswered.

Tuesday’s accord, days before Congress prepares to return from summer recess, shows that neither President Donald Trump nor Republican or Democratic lawmakers see a political advantage in risking a partial shutdown just ahead of the elections.

The agreement on a “clean” stopgap may be shorthand for avoiding “poison pills” or other controversial provisions that could hamper such a measure’s enactment. Nevertheless, the door is open to potentially dozens of tweaks to spending provisions and temporary extensions of expiring programs, which often ride on a stopgap, Republican and Democratic aides familiar with the process said.

The White House requested three dozen adjustments or “anomalies” to current fiscal 2020 spending laws that would be extended into the next fiscal year in a stopgap, and another 51 extensions of, or legislative tweaks to, federal programs set to expire before the end of the year. The House and Senate Appropriations committees have compiled their own lists of adjustments after conversations with agency officials.

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One looming question is the stopgap’s length, something Mnuchin and Pelosi, D-Calif., did not discuss, aides familiar with their phone conversation Tuesday said.

The White House and GOP lawmakers prefer a continuing resolution into December, giving the current Congress and president leverage to negotiate the final fiscal 2021 spending bills before a new Congress convenes in January. It is unclear where Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., will come down on this.

Some Democrats speculate Pelosi may prefer a stopgap that extends into next year, when Democrats hope they will take control of the Senate and the White House in addition to holding the House.

The agreement to negotiate a clean stopgap was a bright spot Tuesday in a reportedly otherwise dispiriting Mnuchin-Pelosi phone call over the shape of a new COVID-19 relief bill.

In a press release following the conversation, Pelosi said the call “made clear that Democrats and the White House continue to have serious differences understanding the gravity of the situation that America’s working families are facing.”

During a hearing before a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on the same day, Mnuchin said Schumer and Pelosi “do not want to sit down at the negotiating table unless we publicly agree on a topline.”

“My own opinion,” Mnuchin said, “is we should go piece by piece, and any area of the legislation we can agree on we should have the House and Senate pass.”

Pelosi has said Democrats would be willing to go down to a bill costing $2.2 trillion, while White House officials have talked about going up to $1.3 trillion.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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