J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Congress Passes Two-Day Stopgap Spending Bill, Narrowly Avoiding a Shutdown

Lawmakers desperately seek to buy more time for final negotiations on spending and coronavirus relief.

The Senate on Friday passed a two-day stopgap spending bill, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown as lawmakers finalize details on a longer-term funding measure. 

The continuing resolution now heads to President Trump for his signature just hours before a midnight deadline. Congress passed the CR in hopes of reaching a twin set of deals over the weekend, as lawmakers seek to iron out the final details of both an omnibus appropriations measure and coronavirus relief funds.

Congress passed a one-week CR last week, hoping it would give negotiators enough time to pass line-by-line spending levels for every agency in government. Talks on that package, as well as stimulus funding, have hit a series of snags in recent days even as lawmakers insisted they were nearing agreement. 

“Negotiations are moving forward,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said on the House floor. “We are close to a final package.” He added negotiators would need the extra two days to get across the finish line. 

A stimulus package agreement has proven elusive, even as negotiators appear to agree on key topics including direct payments to Americans and leaving out more contentious elements such as liability protections for businesses. Still, a number of sticking points remain on both the relief funds—for which lawmakers are using a bipartisan $900 billion proposal as a framework—and the omnibus. 

The CR required unanimous consent in the Senate to win approval before midnight, meaning any one senator could have derailed the effort and forced agencies to shutter. Lawmakers avoided that last-minute drama, however, as they all agreed to let negotiations continue. It is unclear how significant a shutdown would have been, as the Office of Management and Budget typically directs agencies to delay the initiation of shutdown procedures if a funding deal appears imminent. Even without such a direction, most agencies would not begin feeling the practical impacts of a shutdown until Monday. 

House lawmakers were optimistic the third stopgap funding measure of fiscal 2021 would be the last. 

“The American people urgently need coronavirus relief and this short stopgap bill will allow bipartisan, bicameral negotiators to complete their work on this important issue,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who chairs the Appropriations Committee.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., cautioned after the House vote there were still “significant issues outstanding” and said there would not be a vote before 1 p.m. on Sunday at the earliest.