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November 24, 2020 1:45 PM, EST

COVID-19 Aid, Government Funding Lead Lame-Duck Agenda

Nancy Pelosi (left) by Susan Walsh/AP; Mitch McConnell by Patrick Semansky/AP Nancy Pelosi (left) by Susan Walsh/AP; Mitch McConnell by Patrick Semansky/AP

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Members of Congress return to Capitol Hill after Thanksgiving to close out a post-election lame-duck session that will include government funding legislation and the possibility of a new round of COVID-19 relief aid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) intend to proceed with fiscal 2021 appropriations legislation prior to a Dec. 11 funding deadline. The congressional leaders also continue to emphasize the need to approve additional emergency aid for small businesses and frontline workers via a new round of COVID-19 aid.

Slowing down their negotiations, however, is disagreement over the package’s topline figures. The House recently gave party line approval to a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 package. Senators proposed a smaller version.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Nov. 20. They agreed the lame-duck period is the ideal window for passing a bipartisan COVID-19 aid package. A statement from the speaker’s office noted, “Congressional Democrats stand ready to work with the Biden-Harris administration to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people.”

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Specifically, the COVID-19 measure should prioritize working families, small businesses, state and local governments looking to keep frontline workers on payrolls, unemployment insurance, and affordable health care, according to Pelosi’s recap of their meeting.

McConnell pointed to his caucus’ goal of addressing the pandemic’s impact on the economy via the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The federal program is designed to facilitate access to forgivable loans.

“American workers should not lose their jobs needlessly when a second round of the job-saving Paycheck Protection Program for the hardest-hit small businesses would make a huge difference,” said McConnell on Nov. 20. “Our medical system should not be denied additional support, including for distributing the lifesaving vaccines that appear to be on the horizon. Republicans continue to support passing these kinds of urgent and targeted measures as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, to avert a partial government shutdown, congressional negotiators have focused on a $1.4 trillion government funding package aimed at federal agencies for fiscal 2021. Funding authority expires Dec. 11.

In November, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled its fiscal 2021 appropriations bills. For its transportation account, the Senate measure would provide $48.7 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, $18 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration and $13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration. For the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees trucking regulations, the Senate panel proposed providing its safety operations and programs account with $300.8 million. For the agency’s motor carrier safety grants, appropriators proposed $391.1 million.

“Time after time, we have demonstrated our willingness to work together and get the job done. We have before us the opportunity to deliver for the American people once again,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Nov. 10. The House Appropriations Committee approved its bills over the summer.

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