Most 2020 elections are almost over. Both chambers of Congress are back in session. Twelve legislative days currently remain scheduled for the rest of the 116th Congress.
So, what do we expect Congress to focus on? First and foremost, appropriations.
On Nov. 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its version of the 12 annual appropriations bills required to fund federal operations and programs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. There have been no hearings or markups on these bills.
The House passed 10 out of 12 of its appropriations bills along party lines earlier this summer in two “minibus” packages: H.R. 7617, which included proposed funding for Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-HUD; and H.R. 7608, which includes proposed funding for State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture-FDA, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction-VA.
Senate and House leaders must now work together to pass a final funding agreement, most likely in the form of an “omnibus” bill, for FY 2021 before the current continuing resolution funding the government expires on Dec. 11. If they are not successful, they will need to negotiate another stopgap funding measure before Dec. 11 to avoid a federal government shutdown.
In addition to appropriations, Congress has expressed interest in passing another economic relief bill to help the American public and businesses suffering from the continued spread of COVID and government-mandated shutdowns. With the election behind them but the results of some races yet undetermined, the political will to negotiate a final bill appears lacking.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) repeated his interest in a “targeted” bill appropriating about $500 billion in relief, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Ranking Member Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reiterated their support for the $2.4 trillion package the House passed earlier this year. On Nov. 14, President Trump renewed his support for a COVID relief bill in a tweet and added “Make it big and focused. Get it done!"
The ABA Governmental Affair Office is tracking these bills, plus several other legislative provisions that could still advance before the end of the 116th Congress. These include the National Defense Authorization Act, extended payment relief for federal student loans, funding to improve judicial security, expansion of attorney-client privilege protection to email communications involving prisoners, creation of a small claims procedure for copyright cases (the CASE Act), and additional emergency funding for the Legal Services Corporation needed to help more low-income Americans struggling in the wake of COVID-19.
To keep up with developments in the sprint to the end of this legislative session, follow us @ABAGrassroots.