By Erik Wasson and Jack Fitzpatrick
The U.S. House passed a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 11 after both parties in Congress and officials at the White House struck a deal to provide aid to farmers and food assistance for low-income families.
The 359-57 vote on Tuesday night now sends the temporary spending bill to the Senate for a vote before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Final passage would avert a government shutdown just before the Nov. 3 general election.
In addition to funding most government agencies, the deal provides $30 billion for the Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corp. that the Trump administration and farm-state lawmakers had sought.
Democrats got almost $8 billion for a pandemic program to feed children who normally receive school lunches. That’s an increase from the $2 billion Democrats initially suggested they could accept on Friday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure imposes some restrictions limits on use of the CCC money by barring it from going to petroleum refiners or importers, or to help them meet renewable fuel standards.
“We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues on Monday released a temporary funding plan without the Commodity Credit Corp. or food assistance funding. But facing pressure from some farm-state Democrats and solid opposition from Republicans, Pelosi reopened negotiations.
Democratic critics have accused President Donald Trump of using the CCC to dole out political favors. The president last Thursday announced he was drawing $13 billion in aid from the CCC to help rural areas, which are important to his re-election prospects. He unveiled the move at a campaign event in Wisconsin, a key battleground state in the presidential election.
Push on Pelosi
Democrats from farm states and those in narrowly divided districts pushed Pelosi to include the farm money. Swing district Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa issued a statement calling for inclusion of the CCC funds and warning about a shortfall for traditional farm subsidies.
Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who also represents a district that Republicans are trying to win back, criticized Pelosi in a tweet over the issue.
“This is a partisan move that slows down much-needed relief for American farmers and agribusinesses. I strongly urge the speaker and House leadership to include an extension of the Commodity Credit Corporation’s borrowing authority in the funding bill,” she tweeted Tuesday.
A continued standoff would have risked the clock running out on government funding if the Senate blocked the House’s version of the stopgap bill and attempted to amend it with the farm-aid funds. Such a Senate vote could also have been politically difficult for Democrats in states where agriculture is a crucial industry.
Democrats had preferred to keep the farm aid debate for a separate stimulus bill and at one point agreed to the change in exchange for $2 billion in food assistance for children. But the final language was still being worked on.
Thinking beyond December
Some Democrats had sought to extend funding into next spring, betting that the Nov. 3 election would put them in charge in the Senate and White House. Republicans resisted that push with the argument that it would give Congress a deadline to finish work on full funding bills.
If the stopgap is finalized, lawmakers will try to complete work on the 12 annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2021 in the post-election lame-duck session in November and December. So far the Senate hasn’t drafted any of the bills, and there’s likely a battle ahead over paying for Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and replacing military funds he raided to pay for the wall last year.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed earlier this month to keep talks on a coronavirus relief stimulus package separate from the stopgap bill. Stimulus talks have stalled since early August with both sides about $1 trillion apart in their offers.
-- With assistance from Billy House and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.