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Senate objections threaten to delay stopgap funding vote

Paul, Sanders hold out for policy provisions

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the Capitol on June 17, 2020. He and GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are threatening to object to a vote by Friday on a stopgap government funding bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the Capitol on June 17, 2020. He and GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are threatening to object to a vote by Friday on a stopgap government funding bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL)

A stopgap funding bill stalled in the Senate on Thursday amid competing demands for unrelated measures, increasing the risk of a partial government shutdown early next week if no deal is reached.

The House passed a one-week continuing resolution Wednesday on a lopsided vote of 343-67. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had promised that his chamber would pass it “as soon as we get it.”

But two senators from opposite parties threatened to hold up the consent needed for a speedy vote Thursday. All current funding for federal agencies expires at midnight Friday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he wanted an amendment to the stopgap to provide a new round of pandemic-related tax rebate checks of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Those direct payments to families, which were first provided in March, are not included in a bipartisan coronavirus relief package currently under negotiation.

“To get out of Washington, to turn our backs on the suffering of so many of our people would be immoral, would be unconscionable, and cannot be allowed to happen,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.

After offering his bipartisan amendment later in the day, along with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Sanders declined to say whether he would block the unanimous consent needed for speedy passage of the continuing resolution.

“Let’s play it by ear,” Sanders told reporters. “Blame me for anything you want.” Hawley, however, said he wouldn’t try to block the one-week funding extension from clearing on Friday.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., meanwhile, hoped to use the must-pass stopgap measure as leverage to secure a vote aimed at changing a provision of the annual defense authorization conference report, which Senate leaders also want to adopt this week.

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Paul said he wanted to remove language in the defense measure restricting the president’s ability to withdraw or reduce troops overseas, which would affect U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and Germany.

Paul told reporters that lawmakers who typically oppose tying a president’s hands in war-fighting were engaging in “a great deal of hypocrisy” by trying to restrict troop movements. “These are the people who bray all the time about, ‘we don’t need 535 generals,'” he said.

Since amendments to a conference report are not permitted, Paul may have found greater leverage by tying his request to passage of the stopgap funding measure.

“We still don’t have a path forward” on either the stopgap or the defense bill, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters late Thursday. He said Paul was “just trying to figure out ways to derail the [defense] bill. …Most of our people would like to get it done today.”

“If there’s cooperation we could finish those tonight,” Thune said of both bills. “But at the moment, it looks like we’ll be here tomorrow,” he said.

If there’s no agreement, a vote on passage of the stopgap could be delayed until early next week under Senate rules. The first procedural vote — limiting debate on a motion to proceed to the measure — could occur no earlier than Saturday.

Whether a partial shutdown actually occurs depends on how quickly the Senate could clear the one-week funding extension after Friday’s deadline.

Under longstanding practice, the Office of Management and Budget does not instruct agencies to shut down immediately upon a funding lapse if it has a “high level of confidence” that a continuing resolution would be signed into law the following day, according to a previous OMB memo this year.

Theoretically, however, procedural delays could drag final passage of the CR into early next week, which could leave agencies at least prepping for a brief work stoppage.

Another stopgap is needed because Congress has not passed any of the 12 regular spending bills federal agencies need for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The latest stopgap, if signed into law, would extend current funding through Dec. 18. 

That deadline would give Congress an extra week to negotiate and pass an omnibus spending package.

Chris Cioffi and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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