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Stopgap Spending Bill Hits Snag Over Farm Aid Days Before Shutdown Deadline

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., released a stopgap spending bill Monday without farm aid favored by Republicans.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., released a stopgap spending bill Monday without farm aid favored by Republicans.

Republicans are rejecting a short-term spending bill released Monday after Democrats chose not to include federal farm assistance in the legislation which is meant to avert a government shutdown at the end of September.

There has been bipartisan agreement for weeks on the need for a basic spending stopgap. The disagreement over the bill released Monday means lawmakers have less than two weeks to reach an agreement before federal funding runs out.

Democrats called the legislation "non-controversial" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised to craft bipartisan spending bills by the time the stop-gap, or Continuing Resolution, is set to end in December — punting the battle over funding priorities until after the election.

"The Continuing Resolution introduced today will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year," Pelosi said in a statement.

But Republicans say the bill is far from conflict-free.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,called it a "rough draft" that "shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need."

GOP lawmakers say the bill released Monday was supposed to include aid for farmers that was requested by the White House.

The last minute uncertainty adds to an already toxic political environment on Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans have been bitterly at odds over coronavirus relief and tensions have boiled over in recent days following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and McConnell's plans to move forward with the confirmation process for the president's nominee weeks before the election.

Republicans Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, one of the top GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee, appeared to be blindsided by the lack of farmer aid.

"The text we just received removes key provisions agreed upon related to the Commodity Credit Corporation and an extension of the Pandemic-EBT food assistance program," Cole said about the provisions under debate at a hearing on the legislation. "This is an unfortunate and unnecessary outcome."

Democrats say they removed the farm aid, which was backed by President Trump, and the food aid, which was backed by Democrats, in keeping with the plan to keep the legislation clear of any political priorities. Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., called the farm aid a political demand from Trump.

Hollander said in a tweet that "@HouseDemocrats already passed more than $30 billion in targeted and tailored emergency aid to farm country." He added, "this GOP proposal isn't about farmers — it's about a political slush fund for the Trump re-election campaign."

House Democrats may have enough votes to approve a spending bill this week without votes from Republicans. McConnell did not say he planned to block the legislation. That means Senate leaders could choose to ignore the bill or amend it to add back the provisions they want in the package.

Doing so would require the House to re-vote on the updated version of the bill.

The House is expected to vote as early as Tuesday on the legislation. Congress is scheduled to be in session for roughly 5 days between the vote and the funding deadline.

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.