In a sweeping bipartisan vote that takes a government shutdown off the table, the House passed a temporary governmentwide funding bill Tuesday night, shortly after President Donald Trump prevailed in a behind-the-scenes fight over his farm bailout.
The stopgap measure will keep federal agencies fully up and running into December, giving lawmakers in the post-election congressional session time to digest the election and decide whether to pass the annual government funding bills by then or kick them to the next administration. The budget year ends Sept. 30.
The 359-57 vote came after considerable behind-the-scenes battling over proposed add-ons. The final agreement gives the administration continued immediate authority to dole out Agriculture Department subsidies in the run-up to Election Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., retreated from an initial draft that sparked a furor with Republicans and farm-state Democrats.
Instead, in talks Tuesday, Pelosi restored a farm aid funding patch sought by the administration, which has sparked the ire of Democrats who said it plays political favorites as it gives out bailout money to farmers and ranchers.
In return, Pelosi won coronavirus-related food aid for the poor, including a higher food benefit for families whose children are unable to receive free or reduced-price lunches because schools are closed over the coronavirus. Another add-on would permit states to remove hurdles to food stamps and nutrition aid to low-income mothers that are more difficult to clear during the pandemic.
The deal permitted the measure to speed through the House after a swift debate that should ensure smooth sailing in the GOP-held Senate before next Wednesday's deadline. There's no appetite on either side for a government shutdown.
On Monday, Democrats released a version of the stopgap measure that did not contain the farm bailout provision, enraging Republicans and putting passage of the measure in doubt. It became apparent that Pelosi did not have the votes to pass it — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed it as a "rough draft" — and negotiations continued.
Democrats complain that the Trump administration has favored Southern states such as Georgia — a key swing state and home of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue — and larger producers in distributing bailout funds. Farmers are suffering from low commodity prices and the effects of higher tariffs imposed by Trump. Trump announced a new $13 billion allotment of bailout funding at a political rally in Wisconsin last week.
The legislation — called a continuing resolution, or CR, in Washington-speak — would keep every federal agency running at current funding levels through Dec. 11, which will keep the government afloat past an election that could reshuffle Washington's balance of power.
The measure also extends many programs whose funding or authorizations lapse on Sept. 30, including the federal flood insurance program, highway and transit programs, and a long set of extensions of various health programs, such as a provision to prevent Medicaid cuts to hospitals that serve many poor people.
It also finances the possible transition to a new administration if Joe Biden wins the White House and would stave off an unwelcome COVID-19-caused increase in Medicare Part B premiums for outpatient doctor visits.