Lawmakers act to avert shutdown, buying time for COVID talks

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The Hill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington/Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – Still spinning their wheels on COVID-19 relief, lawmakers grabbed a one-week government funding extension on Wednesday that buys time for more talks — though there is considerable disagreement over who is supposed to be taking the lead from there.

Amid the uncertainty, the House easily passed a one-week government-wide funding bill that sets a new Dec. 18 deadline for Congress to wrap up both the COVID-19 relief measure and a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill that is also overdue. The 343-67 vote sent the one-week bill to the Senate, where it's expected to easily pass before a deadline of midnight Friday to avert a partial government shutdown.

The measure would give lawmakers more time to sort through the hot mess they have created for themselves after months of futile negotiations and posturing and recent rounds of flip-flopping.

Top GOP leaders said the right people to handle endgame negotiations are the top four leaders of Congress and the Trump administration, focused on a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to eliminate a Democratic demand for a $160 billion or so aid package for state and local governments.

Top Democrats. meanwhile, are placing their bets on a bipartisan group of senators who are trying to iron out a $908 billion package. The bipartisan group is getting no encouragement from McConnell, but members are claiming progress on perhaps the most contentious item, a demand by the Kentucky Republican to award businesses and other organizations protections against COVID-related lawsuits.

“We’re trying to get a bipartisan compromise along the lines of the Gang of Eight framework," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We need Leader McConnell to stop sabotaging the talks and work with this gang of eight, which is the most hopeful and the only bipartisan group together."

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., however, said the only way to resolve the negotiations is for McConnell, Pelosi and the White House to take charge.

“The bipartisan group provided a good foundation kind of a place to start from. And hopefully, the negotiations are real negotiations on what can ultimately pass the House, the Senate, and get signed," Thune said. "We need to get under way."