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Trump signs stopgap funding bill, averting government shutdown

President Donald Trump had a late campaign rally in Minnesota; no lapse in appropriations despite technically missing deadline

Senate Appropriations Committee leaders Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., left, and Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., arrive for a vote in the Capitol on Sept. 24, 2020.
Senate Appropriations Committee leaders Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., left, and Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., arrive for a vote in the Capitol on Sept. 24, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump early Thursday morning signed a short-term bill extending current appropriations through Dec. 11, buying more time for lawmakers to get through the November elections and then try to wrap up in a lame-duck session.

Trump didn’t get back from a campaign rally in Minnesota in time to beat a midnight deadline for funding the government. But that didn’t mean agencies were winding down their activities and telling employees not to show up during daylight hours.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had told reporters on the plane that Trump would sign the continuing resolution early Thursday after he landed in Washington, according to a pool report. 

There wasn’t a lapse in appropriations even though he didn’t sign it quite in time for the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. That’s because of Trump’s intent to sign the measure, which the Senate cleared Wednesday on an 84-10 vote.

Not that government operations would really be impacted in the first hour of a midnight shutdown, anyway. The Office of Management and Budget has said that if a signed appropriations bill is imminent, agencies don’t need to suspend operations during the first day of a funding gap. 

The CR  extends current funding levels for all federal agencies through Dec. 11. The measure sailed through the House last week on a 359-57 vote.

The new fiscal year is set to begin Thursday without any of the appropriations bills for next year signed into law.

The punt to Dec. 11 leaves a tall task for lawmakers in the post-election lame-duck session, particularly if the White House or Senate change hands. The Supreme Court confirmation battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already touched a partisan nerve and could make cooperation more difficult.

Debate over the stopgap bill was tame by comparison. Passage was ensured after congressional leaders struck a bipartisan agreement last week that resolved a partisan dispute over farm payments.

Some key Democrats had balked over a proposal to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation with more than $20 billion to make more payments to farmers suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the trade war with China. They said the Agriculture Department had used the CCC account as a “slush fund” for favored political interests.

But Democrats agreed to the funding after winning a few concessions. The deal includes a new prohibition against giving any of the money to oil companies after earlier reports surfaced that the Trump administration had been planning to divert Commodity Credit Corporation funds to refiners.

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And Democrats touted $8 billion in additional nutrition aid for low-income children and families. That’s more than what was on the table before Democrats decided to move forward with an earlier bill that left out the CCC money. The measure extends a pandemic-related program providing subsidized meals to children who usually receive them when schools are open, while expanding the program to include younger children in child care centers.

The farm payments don’t actually add any new costs to the federal budget, because the money was going to be restored later this year anyway when the CCC’s annual financial statement is completed. The continuing resolution language simply moves up the timetable so the agency can stay under its $30 billion borrowing cap and still make farm price support payments set to go out in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she was hopeful that a final omnibus spending package would be completed by the new Dec. 11 deadline. “We have a commitment from the appropriators on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol that they will work very hard to have an omnibus ready,” she said at a forum hosted by The Atlantic.

The stopgap measure also includes numerous reauthorizations for programs that would otherwise lapse at the end of September, such as the National Flood Insurance Program.

The resolution mostly extends current programs while forbidding new projects. But it would permit an anomaly for the Navy to spend $1.6 billion in fiscal 2021 for a down payment to start building the first of a dozen new Columbia-class nuclear-missile submarines, a fraction of its $14.4 billion estimated procurement cost.

And the stopgap would provide a new cash infusion for transportation programs, while giving new life to an expiring highway authorization law. The measure includes $13.6 billion for highways and mass transit, and another $14 billion for aviation programs.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.