Senate advances bill to fund government into December

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, walk to hold a private meeting with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – A bill to fund the federal government cleared a key Senate procedural hurdle Tuesday as lawmakers sought to accomplish the bare minimum before they depart Washington to campaign — preventing a shutdown when the new fiscal year begins.

The measure to keep the government running through Dec. 11 advanced by a 82-6 tally. A final vote on Wednesday would send the stopgap spending bill to President Donald Trump in time for his signature before the new budget year starts Thursday.

The funding measure advanced while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made a last-ditch effort to strike an agreement on a separate COVID-19 rescue bill that has eluded them for weeks. The two spoke Tuesday for almost an hour, Pelosi's office said, and plan further discussions on Wednesday.

The two sides remain far apart on COVID relief, and neither side has publicly offered the kind of concessions that would generate tangible momentum. Pelosi and Mnuchin have worked effectively together in the past and were key forces on an earlier $2 trillion aid package that passed in March, but the bipartisan spirit that drove that measure into law has all but evaporated.

Republicans say they cannot stomach any agreement close to the $2.2 trillion bill that Democrats are pushing, and Pelosi has not been willing to offer greater concessions without Republicans giving more ground of their own.

If the talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin fizzle out, the California Democrat appears likely to call a vote on the scaled-back relief bill in the House. Party moderates have been pressing Pelosi to demonstrate greater flexibility and have been itching for legislation that actually becomes law rather than passing a partisan bill.

But Republicans immediately swung against Pelosi's bill, saying the liberal Speaker isn't serious. And even if Pelosi and Mnuchin were able to reach a tentative agreement on “top line" spending levels, dozens of nettlesome details would need to be worked out.

Pelosi has not budged an inch on a key demand of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who says he will not permit a vote on any relief bill that does not provide a liability shield for businesses, schools and universities that reopen as the pandemic rages on.