Vermont delegation hopes for Covid relief bill in lame-duck session

Vermont Congressional delegation
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election loss to former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont’s congressional delegation says uncertainty awaits in the coming months as lawmakers look to stave off a potential government shutdown and approve another round of Covid-19 stimulus relief funding. 

While Trump has yet to concede the contest, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have readied themselves for a lame-duck session with clashes expected over government funding and a coronavirus relief package.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee released drafts of 12 government funding bills in hopes of finding a compromise with the House of Representatives before funding for the government runs out on Dec. 11.

In a statement Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who serves as vice chair of the committee, said both chambers must agree on a new Covid-19 stimulus measure.

While the government funding bills do not offer any language addressing coronavirus relief, Leahy said he is open to adding stimulus provisions to this package to hasten its passage.

“I remain ready to do what is necessary to help a country in crisis,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had been reluctant to move on an additional Covid-19 relief bill since May, urged lawmakers last week to reach an agreement on a stimulus bill before the end of the year.

Senate Republicans have pushed for a roughly $700 billion proposal, much more modest than the $2 trillion package House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has proposed.

Leahy said in an interview that he hopes Senate Republicans will allow movement on the next relief bill before the end of the year. His primary focus is passing the appropriations bills and another round of pandemic relief as winter approaches.

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Leahy said he has never fully understood why McConnell has opposed a Senate vote on the House’s Covid-19 relief proposal.

“A lot of senators have told me privately that it should be done, but without permission from the White House, they don’t want to,” Leahy said.

“I don’t care what party you’re part of,” he added. “If you’re afraid to vote go get a different job.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did not respond to requests for comment.

Pelosi has signaled she has no intention of backing down from her $2 trillion proposal, which is a $1.5 trillion reduction to the initial bill passed in May, dubbed the HEROES Act.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who had been pushing for an agreement on additional federal stimulus to roll out before the November election, said that it is very possible that now that Trump has no electoral incentive to push for Covid-19 relief, the president may be distracted by Biden and the transition of power.

Welch said while Trump is busy dragging his feet on conceding the race and meeting with Biden’s transition team, Congress will be working to compromise on the coronavirus relief bill.

“The big mystery now for me is what does President Trump do when he so far has refused to acknowledge the outcome of the election,” Welch said. “I mean is he going to show up at the table to negotiate, we just don’t know.” 

“This is totally unprecedented,” he added.

Welch said he is hopeful that a proposal will move out of Congress before January and that he would be in favor of compromising on the dollar amount if that meant getting money to states as a stop-gap before passing further legislation with a Biden White House.

“If we do something that helps in the short term, but immediately, that’s going to be helpful and then when the new Congress convenes we can have another bill,” he said.

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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