WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. Senate vote on a stopgap measure to keep the government running is likely to slip to the Friday deadline, a leading Republican said, as a top Democrat suggested wrangling over a spending package and coronavirus aid could drag on through Christmas.
The Democratic-majority House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the one-week stopgap measure to extend current government funding levels until Dec. 18.
If passed by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, it would prevent programs from running out of money on Friday at midnight (0500 GMT on Saturday) and closing.
The bill gives Congress seven more days to enact a broader, $1.4 trillion “omnibus” spending measure for all government agencies from the Pentagon to national parks.
Congressional leaders hope to attach a long-awaited COVID-19 relief package, the first since $3 trillion in aid was approved last spring to help mitigate pandemic-related shutdowns, job losses and other hardships.
The Senate’s number two Republican, John Thune, told reporters Thursday that the vote on the stopgap measure might not happen until Friday, because some senators were holding up proceedings to request votes on other matters.
Holdouts included Republican Senator Rand Paul, who often votes against spending bills, and Senator Bernie Sanders, who wanted more money for Americans.
“If there’s cooperation we could, you know, finish those tonight but at the moment it looks like we’ll be here tomorrow,” Thune said of the stopgap spending measure and a separate defense bill.
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is seeking a promise of a separate vote on a $1,200 direct payment in COVID-19 relief to individuals, as had been done last March, his office said.
“Congress cannot adjourn for the holidays in order to return to our families when so many other families are living in desperation. It is absolutely imperative that we provide $1,200 for every working-class adult and $500 for each of their children,” Sanders said in a statement.
NEGOTIATE TILL CHIRSTMAS?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Congress could work on a COVID-19 relief package until Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, when a range of emergency aid programs are set to expire.
“Dec. 26, the unemployment insurance benefits expire. So some time before then, hopefully that Dec. 18th date, we would like to have this done,” Pelosi, a Democrat, said.
“We cannot go home without it,” she added. “We’ve been here after Christmas, you know.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working on a COVID-19 relief plan. But leading Republicans expressed doubt that the group could agree on the thorniest issues: state and local aid sought by Democrats, and liability protections for businesses sought by Republicans.
“My sense is that they’re not going to get there on the liability language,” Thune told reporters. He endorsed the remedy the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had proposed two days ago – drop the contentious issues for now and pass the rest.
The pandemic has roared back to levels surpassing those seen early in the crisis, with more than 200,000 new infections reported each day and fresh shutdowns in some areas. More than 286,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, and millions have been thrown out of work.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer say they view the bipartisan group negotiations as the best hope for a COVID-19 deal.
That group released a summary of their $908 billion proposal Wednesday. It would provide an extra $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits for 16 weeks alone with aide for small businesses, vaccine distribution, healthcare and education providers and rental assistance.
A $916 billion proposal from Mnuchin on Tuesday included funds for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses. But Democrats criticized its lack of extra benefits for the unemployed, while including $600 payments for all individuals.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)