The US Congress yesterday began a two-week sprint to rescue the federal government from a possible shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, the first major test since the election of whether Republicans and Democrats intend to co-operate.
Government funding for nearly all federal agencies expires on December 11.
Congressional negotiators have made progress on how to divvy up around $1.4tn to be spent by September 30, 2021, the end of the current fiscal year, according to a House of Representatives Democratic aide.
But more granular details are still unresolved and votes by the full House and senate on a massive funding bill may come close to bumping up against that December 11 deadline.
Still unclear is whether Republican President Donald Trump, who was defeated in the November 3 election, will co-operate with the effort underway in Congress.
If the post-election ‘lame duck’ session of Congress fails to produce any sort of budget deal, the new Congress convening in January would have to clean up the mess just weeks before the inauguration of Democratic president-elect Joe Biden.
Trump has already warned that he would veto a wide-ranging defence authorisation bill Congress aims to pass if a provision is included stripping Confederate leaders’ names from military bases.
Failure by the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled senate to pass a spending bill could have dire consequences. Some healthcare operations could be short-staffed or otherwise interrupted at a time when Covid-19 cases in the US have been spiking.
Nearly 267,000 people have died in the US as a result of the virus.
The massive spending bill could be the vehicle for providing billions of dollars to state and local governments to help them handle coronavirus vaccines that are on track to be available in coming weeks and months.
Beyond pandemic worries, if government funds were allowed to run out next month, airport operations could slow, national parks would close, some medical research would be put on hold and thousands of other programmes would be jeopardised as government workers are furloughed, further hurting the struggling US economy.
Washington suffered record-long partial shutdowns between December 22, 2018 and January 25, 2019, the result of a standoff between Democrats and Trump over funding the US-Mexico border wall that was a centrepiece of his presidency.
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