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Congress Faces Make-or-Break Week on Stimulus, Government Funding, and Defense Bill

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  • Congress is facing three major deadlines this week: the stimulus bill, the government funding bill, and a defense bill that provides troop raises. All three, however, remain up in the air.
  • Democratic leaders and key Republican senators have said they will support the bipartisan $908 billion stimulus bill, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to sign on.
  • If lawmakers don’t finish hashing out the final details of the $1.4 trillion government funding bill, the government will shut down on Friday.
  • Lawmakers have floated a one-week extension that would give them more time to debate the government funding bill and the stimulus package, which will likely be tacked on to the omnibus spending legislation.
  • While both chambers are set to approve the annual defense spending bill this week, President Trump has threatened to veto the bipartisan legislation that has been signed into law for 59 straight years unless it repeals Section 230, an entirely unrelated law that grants legal protections for social media companies.

Stimulus Package

Congress is headed for a busy and chaotic week as lawmakers near key deadlines to pass another coronavirus relief stimulus package, government funding legislation, and the defense budget bill. 

Members have recently made some of the most concrete strides towards the approval of a stimulus bill after a bipartisan group of senators announced a $908 billion stimulus proposal last week.

Among other things, that proposal includes an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits, $288 billion for loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and other similar programs, $160 billion for state and local governments, $25 billion in housing assistance, and short-term federal protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

While many senators have agreed to the idea in principle, the bipartisan group has not yet rolled out an official bill with formal language laying out these policies, though they are expected to do so by Monday night.

However, even if the group does reach an agreement among themselves, the question still remains: will leadership sign on?

Democratic leaders did throw their support behind the general bipartisan proposal last week, but they were careful with the phrasing of their endorsement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) both agreed to the plan as a basis for negotiations.

McConnell Refuses to Sign On

When it comes to the country’s top Republicans, it is a very different story. Even as more and more key rank and file Republican Senators have signaled their approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has still refused to embrace the bipartisan plan.

For months McConnell repeatedly claimed Democrats were the sole reason there was not a proposal because they would not compromise with Republicans. In reality, both sides were guilty of not budging from the plans they wanted.

Now that Democrats have agreed to make concessions and strike an agreement, McConnell is refusing to do the same. Still, the Senate leader continued to call for bipartisanship last week while also proposing his own plan that breaks drastically with top Democratic priorities.

McConnell’s plan, which is very similar to the previous bill he already brought to the floor in recent months that has now failed to pass twice, also lacks numerous provisions Democrats have made clear must be in any legislation they agree to.

Most significantly, McConnell’s proposal does not include any federal unemployment benefits, despite the fact that he knows that extending federal joblessness aid is a dealbreaker for Democrats.

Even more perplexing is the fact that extended joblessness is also something Republicans have generally agreed to, though they differ on how much benefits should be allocated.

Trump’s Role in Stimulus

Despite McConnell’s insistence, even some of the staunchest Republicans have said his plan is not a good idea.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) told reporters that while he would support what the leader wants to propose but, “it doesn’t have any Democratic support. I’m tired of doing show votes here.”

Graham also said that he supports the $908 billion bipartisan deal. and added that he has talked to President Donald Trump about the plan “extensively.” As for Trump, he has been largely quiet and uninvolved in the most recent round of negotiations.

He has largely delegated the process to McConnell, who has used the position to push for the proposal he wants, arguing last week that Trump would veto the $908 billion deal. However, McConnell’s claims seem to be at odds with comments from Graham and other key Republicans.

On Sunday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of the lawmakers leading the bipartisan deal, told Fox News that Trump has in fact indicated he would sign onto the $908 billion proposal. 

Trump, for his part, has offered vague mixed messages to the public. When asked by a reporter Thursday if he supported “this bill,” Trump said he would, though it was not clear which proposal he meant. A spokesperson later clarified that the president had meant McConnell’s plan, that does not mean he would veto a bigger one if it was sent to his desk.

Government Funding Bill

While many have said this week is basically make-or-break for any hopes of a stimulus before Biden takes office, there have also been talks among leadership of tacking the bill onto the massive year-end spending package.

At the end of every calendar year, Congress must pass a bill to fund the government through the next fiscal year. If they do not pass that legislation by the slotted deadline, which this year is Dec. 11, the federal government will shut down.

Congressional leaders have agreed in principle to a massive $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, but there are still some details that are being worked out, including President Trump’s demand for the border wall funding and disputes over a Veterans Affairs health funding cap, among other things.

Notably, given the number of differences remaining on this spending bill as well as a coronavirus relief bill, it has been reported that members will likely pass a one-week stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown and give themselves another week to sort everything out.

Meaning that if the stimulus bill is incorporated into this much larger spending bill, Congress will also have another week to find common ground there as well. It’s unclear if an agreement will be reached after months of deadlock.

If they do not agree on something either this week or next week, assuming they approve this stopgap extension, it is almost certain there will not be another stimulus bill until president-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Biden has said it will be a priority of his to pass a stimulus package regardless of whether or not Congress approves this $908 billion one, that would still mean Americans would have to go more than a month without the desperately needed aid.

Unless federal unemployment programs and evictions moratoriums are extended, upwards of 12 million people are subject to lose all their benefits entirely by the end of the year, and as many as 6.7 million renter households — or roughly 19 million people — will risk being evicted in the coming months. 

Defense Funding Bill

While both the stimulus proposal and the government funding bill will likely be up in the air for another two weeks, there is at least one vote Congress is expected to hold soon, the annual bill that funds the Department of Defense.

That bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is set to be voted on by the House tomorrow and the Senate sometime later this week. While it is expected to pass both chambers with huge bipartisan majorities, the problem here lies with President Trump.

Despite the fact that the NDAA is a bipartisan bill that has been signed into law for 59 straight years, Trump has threatened to veto the $740 billion bill unless Congress agrees to repeal Section 230 — a completely unrelated 1996 law that gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. 

Trump has recently argued that the section is a threat to national security. However, he has not provided any evidence for this claim. He also has not given any other reasons why he will veto the bill that funds the military and gives raises to troops and military readiness unless Congress repeals a totally unrelated legal shield for social media companies.

Many believe he simply is angry that Twitter has been flagging his tweets for spreading misinformation about the election, and as a result, no such repeal or amendment of the section is included in the current version of the NDAA set to be approved by both chambers this week.

Notably, if Trump does veto the bill, it is very possible he will be overridden. House Democrats have said they will have a two-thirds majority in the House to override the veto, and many Republicans in the Senate have also signaled they would vote to override.

Even if they fail to override the veto, the bill could easily be passed again when Biden takes office in January. Still, this will be a key moment to watch because if Trump’s veto is overridden, it would be a massive rebuke that comes right as he is no longer about to be president.

In addition to not including the Section 230 repeal, the bill contains other provisions that Trump has openly opposed. This is removing Confederate names from army bases — a measure Trump separately threatened to veto over in June but has not mentioned in recent months. The bill is also taking aim at other Trump policies like his troop withdrawals and border wall. 

Trump, for his part, has spent most of his free time railing against the election outcome and continuing to spread false claims, and it is currently unclear how he will ultimately fit into Congress’ schedule as it rushes to wrap up the session before the December holidays.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Reuters)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

See what others are saying:  (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging

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The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.


GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push

In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.

Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.

Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.

“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.

The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.

Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation

There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.

While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.

“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.

Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.

Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.

Uphill Battle

While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.

Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor. 

As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.

The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not. 

Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant. 

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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