NAICU Washington Update

Congress Avoids Shutdown as COVID Relief Stalls

October 02, 2020

A month out from the elections, Congress made a last ditch effort to negotiate another round of coronavirus relief funds before going home to campaign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was in conversations throughout the week with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the chief negotiator for the White House, while White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was in constant contact with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  But in the end, no deal was reached and it is unclear if work will continue in the coming weeks.
Negotiations started when House Democrats reworked their bill from May, the HEROES Act, to bring the total cost down from $3.4 trillion to $2.2 trillion. Rep. Pelosi has held firm to this funding level as the middle ground between their request and the White House limit of $1.5 trillion. Throughout the process, Senate Republicans have held out for a much lower funding level, such as the $500 billion amount included in the second Senate HEALS Act.
Reportedly, the White House brought a $1.5 trillion proposal to the table that resembles the Problem Solvers draft from two weeks ago.  And at one point it seemed a $1.8 trillion funding level might be agreeable between Rep. Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin, but Sen. McConnell could not sign off on that amount because he couldn’t get it passed in the Senate without abandoning many of his Republican colleagues.
As the week progressed, conversations continued, but on Thursday evening the House reversed course and brought up its Democratic bill for debate.  The measure passed 214 to 207, mostly along party lines.  The move indicated that negotiations had failed and the Democrats were moving back to their partisan package so members could vote for something before they went home to campaign.
The updated version of the HEROES Act that the House approved increases higher education funding by almost $2 billion from the May version for a total of $39 billion.  These additional resources will go toward increasing the amount of funding for minority-serving institutions from $1.7 billion to $3.5 billion.  The bill otherwise maintains $7 billion for private nonprofit higher education, $27 billion for public higher education, and $1.4 billion for institutions with additional unmet need due to the coronavirus. These amounts are proportionate to the amounts each sector received under the CARES Act.
Beyond the political divisions over the topline funding levels, the two parties also do not agree on other key provisions, such as state and local funding, liability protection for businesses and schools, and airline assistance.  However, there has been no public talk of lowering the funds for higher education.  Both parties and both chambers still support funds for students and institutions.
While a deal on new coronavirus relief funds could not be reached, Congress and the White House managed to avoid a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution that maintains funding until December 11, 2020. Had they not agreed to this measure, the government would have been shut down when the federal fiscal year ended on September 30. Final funding decisions for Fiscal Year 2021 will thus be made in the post-election lame duck session.

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