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12.08.20 Washington Update

House and Senate Update – As lawmakers continue negotiations around end-of-year government spending, the impending December 11 deadline is expected to be extended through a Continuing Resolution. The new deadline is likely to be December 18.

Talks on the Hill are ongoing on multiple fronts.  Appropriators are working on an omnibus or “cromnibus” that could be combined with a COVID relief package. The bipartisan “gang” of senators will soon produce a more thorough outline of the COVID relief proposal they announced last week which could be around $900 billion. It is important to note that the bipartisan proposal is noteworthy, but House and Senate leaders are the ultimate deciders of what is in, or out, of any package given the size and scopes of their respective caucuses.

Progress is being made, but major debate remains around liability protections and state and local funding. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) are spearheading negotiations on liability protections. Cornyn has been the leader for the Republican conference on liability and its implications during the pandemic. Lawmakers have been especially focused on the length of time businesses might receive liability protections related to COVID-19. Depending on vaccine distribution, protections could cover 2020 and part of 2021.

State and local funding disagreements have to do with the parameters around potential funding. Republicans want to ensure no federal funds could be used to bail out financially strapped state programs unrelated to the COVID crisis.

Appropriations chairs, along with those from authorizing committees (and ranking members) continue to work on an FY 2021 spending package. Some areas of disagreement are being set aside for leadership to resolve, but appropriations sub-committee chairs are still trying to reach agreements amongst themselves. We expect more involvement from House and Senate leaders in these negotiations as the week progresses. Issues surrounding funding for the Department of Homeland Security and others may result in some subcommittees receiving current-year funding while others receive new allocations. Other expiring legislative and tax policy authorizations, several of which come from the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committee, could also extend negotiations around a final, year-end spending deal.

President Trump issued veto threats to the National Defense Authorization Act on grounds that negotiators failed to include reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the final bill.  Discussions around this and other knotty issues in the NDAA will continue this week. We will soon know if the House and Senate can muster the necessary two-thirds majorities needed to override a potential Trump veto. The House will vote today on the NDAA conference report and the Senate will follow soon thereafter.

The Senate will consider nominees to fill floor time as these agreements are being negotiated. Notably, a confirmation vote will come for Nathan Simington to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission. Senators could also vote on a privileged joint resolution of disapproval regarding arms sales.  Bipartisan leaders in both chambers continue to express interest in sending the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to the President’s desk this year. The House is expected to vote on WRDA under suspension of the rules this week. Finally, negotiators are very close to agreeing on, and potentially attaching, a suite of non-controversial energy provisions to the year-end spending package.