Short-term US Spending Bill Passes; New Coronavirus Relief Package Introduced

U.S. lawmakers came to an agreement last week on a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 11. The stopgap measure was passed by the House last Tuesday, and is expected to be cleared by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump this week. The bill ensures the government will not be shut down come the Oct. 1 deadline, the start of the new fiscal year. But its expiration date also sets up a likely fight over funding in the lame duck congressional session following the November elections. 

In other news, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell made joint appearances before a pair of congressional committees last week, to once again make the case for additional stimulus funds. Mnuchin also suggested utilizing some $380 billion in unspent aid – appropriated by the CARES Act back in March – and testified that reallocating the funds would “not cost an extra penny.” Roughly $130 billion remains in the now-expired Paycheck Protection Program; the Treasury Department has another $200 billion in unused funds that were intended to backstop emergency Fed facilities, like the Main Street Lending Program. Redirecting those funds would require congressional action.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers are taking another stab at putting together a coronavirus relief package. Recently, a 50-member bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus released their $1.5 trillion bill, a move intended to bring party leaders and the White House back to the negotiating table. The price tag is about halfway between the $300 billion Senate GOP bill from early September and the $3.4 trillion bill favored by House Democrats.

In addition, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last week tasked the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee with drafting a new relief bill, reportedly in the $2.2 trillion range. With the House scheduled to recess this Friday for the November elections, the bill could see a vote as early as this week. Speaker Pelosi has faced pressure from a number of moderates in the party to consider additional stimulus legislation before the elections.

Finally, the House on Friday passed the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447) in a largely party-line vote. The package compiles provisions from dozens Democrat-supported bills, and includes funding for clean energy technology, a mandated phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons, and some $250 million earmarked for the development of stricter building codes, for example. Several Republicans spoke out against the legislation, and the White House issued a veto threat against it.