As Congress Heads Home, Agenda in Flux

The US CapitolThis blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

The Senate Passes Funding Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown/ COVID Funding Bill Remains Stalled

The federal fiscal year ended on Wednesday, September 30 at midnight. That day, the Senate passed a bill (with a 84-10 bipartisan vote) to keep the government funded at last year’s level temporarily—a stopgap measure called a Continuing Resolution. The House passed the same bill last week with a bipartisan vote. The President signed the bill a few hours after the deadline—early Thursday morning—so that functioning and funding of the federal government continues uninterrupted.  The bill expires December 11, after the election, leaving a lame duck session of Congress to deal with it. 

In the House, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) was absorbed in trying to come up with a last-minute deal with the White House to secure a long-awaited next COVID relief package. She met repeatedly with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who appears to be the White House’s lead on this, but did not achieve a final deal. So, she turned to her Democratic colleagues in the House and passed a trimmed-down version of the HEROES Act—their COVID relief bill that passed several months ago, but made no headway in the Senate.

The revised bill that passed the House cuts the original HEROES bill funding about a trillion dollars, leaving it weighing in at $2.2 trillion. The White House had indicated it would go as high as $1.5 trillion, and the Senate Republicans had a hard time rallying around a $1 trillion bill. While no deal is in the offing, Speaker Pelosi indicated that she will continue talks with Sec. Mnuchin in hopes of a breakthrough. Might it be possible that the next COVID relief bill could be attached to the funding bill that must be passed by December 11? Well, it seems anything is possible in Washington these days.

The House is scheduled to leave town today for recess; at this point, the Senate is scheduled to be in session next week, though that could change. The Amy Coney Barret confirmation hearing for Supreme Court is scheduled for the week of October 12 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both the House and Senate have indicated that even if they go into recess, they could be called back to Washington at any time. 

President Trump Tests Positive for COVID-19: What Are the Implications?

Let me be clear:  I have no inside information on this one! I will offer my thoughts, reflections and mostly questions, as developments are fast paced and sure to overtake us all in the coming days. First, I think this throws all official DC business and both campaigns into a state of chaos. We know that aggressive contact tracing is underway and there are very likely many more officials, including Members of Congress, who will test positive. Note that Members of Congress do not get tested regularly as they come back and forth to Washington; nor are they required to wear masks when in congressional buildings (though most do, particularly Democrats). Also note that there have been multiple meetings this week with officials from the White House and Members of Congress—related to negotiations for the COVID relief package and the SCOTUS nomination of Amy Coney Barret. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has tested positive. He met with Amy Coney Barret last week; however, she has tested negative and is reported to have had the virus over the summer. Contact tracing will undoubtedly reveal additional infections. 

In terms of the campaigns of the presidential candidates, all bets are off.  Of course, President Trump shared the debate stage with Vice President Biden on Tuesday, though he and Jill Biden have tested negative.  resident Trump’s family was present at the debate and did not wear masks. They also travelled together on Air Force One. The President held a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday and a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday. Last Saturday, the President held an event to announce his nomination for SCOTUS in the rose garden, with many VIPs in attendance. Masks and social distancing were not part of the protocol at any of these events. 

By the time you read this Update, we will know more as more people are tested, results are made public, and decisions are made. This has been such a year of uncharted territory; and here we are again.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information and remember to follow me on twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant