Congress’ lame duck to-do list
Politics | Lawmakers scramble to pass a budget Trump will sign
by Harvest Prude
Posted 12/03/20, 05:57 pm
WASHINGTON—Time is almost up for the 116th Congress. But before lawmakers head home for the holidays—House lawmakers on Dec. 10 and senators on Dec. 18—they hope to wrap-up a few remaining to-dos, including funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a short-term spending bill known as a continuing resolution, which expires in one week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., want to pass an omnibus spending bill rather than another stopgap budget. But lawmakers still have to agree on how to allocate about $1.4 trillion for the current fiscal year, which ends in September 2021.
To get an omnibus budget deal across the finish line, each of 12 subcommittees in Congress must agree on bills to fund each part of the government. Hangups often result when the parties or the president disagree on the top-line numbers and other priorities to include. One point of division: whether to add $12 billion in domestic spending, some of which would go toward an increase for veterans healthcare and a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans are asking for $2 billion for the border wall.
If politicians pass another continuing resolution, the 117th Congress will have to act quickly to divvy up $1.4 trillion of agency spending next year and avoid a government shutdown. Both political parties will have even slimmer majorities and perhaps less leverage to push their agenda when the new Congress begins come January.
Either type of spending measure must also pass the test of the president’s pen. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto a key funding bill, the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation budgets for military readiness, troop levels, the purchasing of ships and equipment, and other defense goals for the next year. The House and Senate versions of the bill currently call for the Pentagon to rename military bases named for Confederate leaders—a measure Trump opposes.
On Tuesday, he added another stipulation to his support of the NDAA. Trump wants it to include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision that protects social media companies from liability lawsuits for what users post on their platforms. Conservatives have long complained the law allows internet platforms and publishers to censor right-leaning messages. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said Section 230 shields from accountability websites where users upload abusive and illegal content.
Several Republicans have introduced legislation that would repeal or partially roll back the law. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also reportedly floated a repeal of Section 230 in exchange for Trump accepting the renaming of bases. A number of Republicans, including the GOP chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, called the two priorities unrelated and said Congress should deal with them separately. Lawmakers announced their intent to move forward with the bill unamended. If Trump follows through on his veto threat, Congress could override it. The NDAA has passed for the last 59 consecutive years.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers revived one more failing effort to pass more COVID-19 economic relief in this session of Congress. In a surprising reversal, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement they would support a compromise bill of about $908 billion. For months, Pelosi refused to accept a price tag of less than a couple trillion dollars to help state and local governments, expand coronavirus testing, and get individuals direct stimulus payments. Republicans panned that as excessive and called for a more modest bill of $500 billion.
Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have found rare agreement in calling for lawmakers to pass coronavirus relief. Biden said Congress should “come together,” for the sake of economic relief to workers and businesses.
“Make it big and focused,” Trump tweeted. “Get it done!”
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