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Demands Over COVID-19 Relief Delay Action On Bill To Avoid Government Shutdown

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is pushing for a commitment to vote to include another round of stimulus checks in a coronavirus relief package before agreed to move ahead on a one-week funding bill.
Senate Television via AP
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is pushing for a commitment to vote to include another round of stimulus checks in a coronavirus relief package before agreed to move ahead on a one-week funding bill.

The Senate is bogged down in a series of fights on separate legislation that could trigger a government shutdown because they are delaying action on a one-week temporary funding measure.

Federal agencies run out of money at midnight on Friday if the Senate fails to approve the stopgap bill and send it to the president for his signature.

Among the concerns, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is seeking a vote on a measure to allow direct payments to Americans before the stopgap measure can gain passage.

In addition, a group of Republican members are pushing for a provision to address government shutdowns in the future.

"Neither side's blinking at the moment," Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. told a Capitol Hill pool reporter on Friday. "There's either going to be a bunch of stuff, or nothing."

Thune said with both some Republicans and Sanders currently opposed to the bill's quick passage, it was unclear Friday afternoon if they'll beat the clock for a shutdown.

The legislation to keep the government's lights on was passed by a large majority in the House on Wednesday. When it arrived to the Senate, it was stuck behind the National Defense Authorization Act that arrived to the Senate first.

Overnight, member fights over both measures helped delay passage of the stopgap, raising worries overnight of a short-term shutdown.

"The Senate needs to pass a stopgap funding measure today to prevent a lapse while a bipartisan, bicameral effort closes in a full-year funding bill," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in opening remarks on the chamber floor Friday.

Sanders had joined forces with Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley to seek votes on the coronavirus relief measure to allow another round of direct payments. But unlike Hawley, Sanders hasn't committed to relenting on his demands to allow a quicker vote on the stopgap measure if the direct payments measure isn't addressed first.

"All that I want to say right now is that the American people are hurting, tens of millions of people are living in desperation," Sanders told Capitol Hill pool reporters on Friday. "They need help. They need a $1200 check, $500 for their kids and Congress cannot go home without providing that."

Another key hold out, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, on Friday relented on his demands for the defense bill, saying he only wanted it held up for a day. That allowed an afternoon vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, clearing the way for the stopgap measure, also known as the continuing resolution or CR.

"Our main point in filibustering the defense authorization bill was to point out that the president should have the prerogative to end a war, not just to start wars," Paul told a Capitol Hill reporter.

Soon after, lawmakers approved a procedural motion to allow a final vote on the defense bill. Trump has threatened to veto the measure, but overwhelmingly majorities in both chambers have signaled support for the plan. The House already approved the defense bill with a veto-proof majority earlier this week.

The means Congress may have the votes to override a Trump veto should one occur.

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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.