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House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill      09/23 06:07

   In a sweeping bipartisan vote that takes a government shutdown off the 
table, the House passed a temporary government-wide funding bill Tuesday night, 
shortly after President Donald Trump prevailed in a behind-the-scenes fight 
over his farm bailout.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a sweeping bipartisan vote that takes a government 
shutdown off the table, the House passed a temporary government-wide funding 
bill Tuesday night, shortly after President Donald Trump prevailed in a 
behind-the-scenes fight over his farm bailout.

   The stopgap measure will keep federal agencies fully up and running into 
December, giving lame-duck lawmakers time to digest the election and decide 
whether to pass the annual government funding bills by then or kick them to the 
next administration. The budget year ends Sept. 30.

   The 359-57 vote came after considerable behind-the-scenes battling over 
proposed add-ons. The final agreement gives the administration continued 
immediate authority to dole out Agriculture Department subsidies in the run-up 
to Election Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., retreated from an 
initial draft that sparked a furor with Republicans and farm-state Democrats, 
who said she was interfering with the routine implementation of the rural 
safety net as low crop prices and Trump's own tariffs slam farm country.

   "It's a big deal. This is cash flow to mom and pop businesses all over rural 
America," said Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, top Republican on the House 
Agriculture Committee. "They get them every year in October. They come like 
clockwork."

   In talks Tuesday, Pelosi restored a farm aid funding patch sought by the 
administration, which has sparked the ire of Democrats who said it plays 
political favorites as it gives out bailout money to farmers and ranchers.

   In return, Pelosi won COVID-related food aid for the poor, including an 
extension of a higher food benefit for families whose children are unable to 
receive free or reduced lunches because schools are closed over the 
coronavirus. Another add-on would permit states to remove hurdles to food 
stamps and nutrition aid to low-income mothers that are more difficult to clear 
during the pandemic.

   The deal permitted the measure to speed through the House after a swift 
debate that should ensure smooth sailing in the GOP-held Senate before next 
Wednesday's deadline. There's no appetite on either side for a government 
shutdown.

   On Monday, Democrats released a version of the stopgap measure that did not 
contain the farm bailout provision, enraging Republicans and putting passage of 
the measure in doubt. It became apparent that Pelosi did not have the votes to 
pass it --- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed it as a 
"rough draft" --- and negotiations continued.

   Democrats complain that the Trump administration has favored southern states 
such as Georgia --- a key swing state and home of Agriculture Secretary Sonny 
Perdue --- and larger producers in distributing bailout funds. Farmers are 
suffering from low commodity prices and the effects of higher tariffs imposed 
by Trump. Trump announced a new $13 billion allotment of bailout funding at a 
political rally in Wisconsin last week.

   The administration's handling of farm subsidies had angered Sen. Debbie 
Stabenow of Michigan, the powerful top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. 
She said that the Agriculture Department didn't need the special financing 
provision that sparked the furor and that the money would come in November at 
the latest anyway. But the financial fix had been passed before, and other 
Democrats, including endangered House incumbents in states like Iowa and 
Minnesota, pressed for it.

   "Now is not the time to be playing politics with aid to farmers or the 
assistance needed to save our families and local economies from economic 
disaster," said freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa.

   The measure is the bare minimum accomplishment for Capitol Hill's powerful 
Appropriations committees, who pride themselves on their deal-making abilities 
despite gridlock in other corners of Congress. It came after bipartisan 
negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief package imploded and appear unlikely to 
be rekindled --- especially since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader 
Ginsburg has upended U.S. politics.

   "We need to keep the government open but we also need additional COVID 
relief for the American people," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

   The legislation --- called a continuing resolution, or CR, in 
Washington-speak --- would keep every federal agency running at current funding 
levels through Dec. 11, which will keep the government afloat past an election 
that could reshuffle Washington's balance of power.

   The measure also extends many programs whose funding or authorizations lapse 
on Sept. 30, including the federal flood insurance program, highway and transit 
programs, and a long set of extensions of various health programs, such as a 
provision to prevent Medicaid cuts to hospitals that serve many poor people.

   It also finances the possible transition to a new administration if Joe 
Biden wins the White House and would stave off an unwelcome COVID-caused 
increase in Medicare Part B premiums for outpatient doctor visits.

   The underlying stopgap measure deals with the 30% of the federal 
government's day-to-day budget that goes to Cabinet agency operations funded by 
Congress each year. The annual appropriations process broke down in the Senate 
this year and it's unclear but probably unlikely that the $1.3 trillion in 
agency spending bills will be enacted this year, even in a post-election lame 
duck session, especially if Biden is elected to replace Trump.

   In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to use government 
funding deadlines and must-past temporary funding bills as leverage to try to 
win concessions elsewhere on Washington's agenda. Such efforts invariably fail.

   Republicans in 2013 used it in a failed attempt to prevent implementation of 
the so-called Obamacare health law, and Senate Democrats returned the favor in 
2018 in a futile effort to force debate on permitting immigrants brought into 
the country illegally as children to remain in the U.S.

   Pelosi studiously avoided such a confrontation this time.

 
 
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