With no quick fix in sight, lawmakers are preparing to work through the weekend. And an important question arises: Will they be able to prevent a government shutdown while the clock is ticking until midnight?
Most lawmakers believe that the two sides will agree to extend government funding for a few more days while aid talks continue. But this is Congress, where even the easy things can be difficult.
GOP leaders in the Senate have spoken openly about how it may be necessary to pass a stop-gap – a so-called ongoing resolution or CR – to extend the closing deadline for a short period of up to 48 hours, even though Democratic leaders say that have done so far has been unwilling to embrace that call in an effort to pressure Republicans into making an aid deal.
To finalize the adoption of a short-term finance bill hours before midnight, a two-pronged partnership would be required and all 100 senators would have to agree to schedule a vote. At the moment, that cooperation is lacking, say top republicans.
There are also many more issues to be resolved before the two sides can secure an economic bailout package in the closing days of the 116th Congress and after months of bitter stalemate.
“It’s a bit of a whack, you know, whack it here and something else comes out,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “There is a lot of interaction between the moving parts of all of this, and it is quite difficult to get it all sorted out.”
If government funding fails, it starts at the weekend and can be so short that it has virtually no impact on government operations.
But there would still be major risks involved – especially if they are unable to resolve their deadlock, causing a protracted shutdown amid a once-in-century pandemic, an erupting economic crisis and a high cause the use of vaccines.
Moreover, even a brief shutdown would almost certainly ignite partisan tensions that could further complicate efforts to finalize the negotiations on a stimulus package.
The delay in closing a deal is due to a series of issues that have yet to be resolved.
The leadership is under pressure from the right and left to change the deal before it is revealed.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri said he plans to take the floor on Friday to ask for a vote on his bill to provide direct payments of $ 1,200 for individuals and $ 2,400 for families. Hawley said that “all options are on the table” when asked Thursday if he would object to an ongoing resolution.
Outstanding issues during the discussions include whether there should be further restrictions on who should be eligible for the one-off checks and whether and for how long the eviction moratorium should be extended, as some Republicans argue that providing rental assistance could be sufficient. Democrats disagree.
Other issues yet to be resolved include a push from Republicans to limit the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority, something Democrats complain would disrupt the upcoming Biden administration.
The leaders have also continued to negotiate how the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s money for states and cities would be structured, according to sources, something Democrats are putting pressure on, but Republicans are resisting.
For now, lawmakers are bracing for the possibility that a disruption in government funding could lead to a midnight shutdown.
“There may be a partial ending. Obviously we’re here for the weekend,” Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said Thursday. “It seems to me that the problems that remain unsolved can be bridged. But the question is how long that will take.”