September 2020 Federal Update
Read the latest federal update news from the September 2020 Federal Update Report from Washington, D.C.
A number of legislative priorities remain on the table for the month of September as Washington increasingly shifts focus to the coming election. At the top of this list of priorities is the passage of a continuing resolution to ensure the federal government is funded beyond September 30th. With both parties wary of a government shutdown only weeks before the election, a “clean” resolution, one not attached to other bills, is expected to get the President’s signature by the end of the month.
The second priority for Congress this month is the passage of a new stimulus package aimed at helping various sectors of the economy still suffering due to the pandemic. The House passed a $3.4 trillion bill in May, and Senate leadership has recently proposed a $500 billion package, although neither bill has the support of the other chamber’s leadership. After negotiations collapsed between House Speaker Pelosi and the Trump Administration last month, it is still possible, although perhaps unlikely, that the two parties will agree on a compromise bill before leaving Washington at the beginning of October.
A number of other programs are also set to expire at the end of the month, including the national Surface Transportation Authorization (the FAST Act), the National Flood Insurance Program, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. These programs are likely to see temporary extensions while Congress pushes back passage of permanent reauthorizations and renewals.
The clock is ticking, with several of these deadlines approaching including the October 1 start of the new fiscal year and the November 3 election, and the lame-duck session that will follow it. Working against much progress is the limited number of days the chambers plan to be in session.
Efforts this summer to respond to COVID-19 and its economic effects crowded out work on many other items, and leaders are again planning to prioritize the most time-sensitive matters during the short September session. House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leader McConnell are counting on the threat of a shutdown and lawmakers’ determination to get back to the campaign trail by early October helping them rush legislation through both chambers.
Government Funding Deadline
The Government is set to shut down in 19 days.
Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced in early September week that they have reached a tentative agreement to continue funding federal agencies beyond the September 30 deadline, reducing the likelihood of a government shutdown. It is standard for stopgap bills to contain the same amount of federal funding as the previous year, so they generally just maintain current funding. But an actual legislative package has not been agreed to yet, which could still lead to complications in the next 19 days. And some lawmakers and aides have continued discussion of attaching relief provisions to a stopgap spending bill, but reaching a consensus there could be difficult.
This stopgap would temporarily take the place of this year’s Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which was passed by the House appropriations committee until both the House and Senate could reach an agreement. The House bill proposed funding for DOJ at $33.2 billion, an increase of $972.5 million above the FY 2020 discretionary enacted level.
A key decision for Congressional leaders is the timetable for a temporary government spending resolution. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said his expectation is that a stopgap deal would run through the beginning of December, although specifics have not been ironed out. But some House Democrats are pushing for a stopgap into early 2021, to avoid the possibility of having to negotiate with a lame-duck president if the President loses.
House Set to Take Up Marijuana Decriminalization Bills
The House could soon take up two bills that would greatly alter federal laws for marijuana.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has signaled the chamber later in September will vote on a bill (H.R. 3884) to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge and seal federal marijuana convictions. The MORE Act would remove the penalties for marijuana, erase some criminal records, and create grant programs for people hit especially hard by the war on drugs. Several Michigan House Members are co-sponsors of this bill which is likely to fail in the Senate which has a Republican Majority.
Lawmakers could also take up a bipartisan measure (H.R. 3797) to reduce barriers to marijuana research. That bill has support from some opponents of legalizing recreational marijuana, such as Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), who says there isn’t enough good research on the benefits and dangers of the drug.
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