COVID-19 stimulus deal remains elusive as Trump signs 2-day spending bill to avoid shutdown

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WASHINGTON – A government shutdown was avoided late Friday when Trump signed into law a short-term government funding bill hours before funding was set to lapse, buying lawmakers a few more days of negotiations as talks in Congress over a COVID-19 stimulus bill stretched into the weekend.

House Democrats passed legislation Friday afternoon to fund the government for two days by a 320-60 vote, sending the bill over to the Senate, which then passed it unanimously. Trump signed the measure late Friday. Lawmakers had faced a Friday night shutdown deadline as they try to finish negotiations on both a stimulus deal and a larger government funding package.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the House floor following the vote he was hopeful a deal was possible, though there were "significant issues outstanding" as stimulus negotiations continued. He told lawmakers the earliest the House could vote on any stimulus legislation if a deal were to emerge would be 1:00 p.m. EST on Sunday.

When there is a deal, "it'll take some time to put the paper together," he told reporters.

Republicans and Democrats have been optimistic a stimulus and funding deal could be reached this week after months of impasse. Congressional leaders have been holding daily meetings to negotiate an agreement to restore lapsed benefits, provide funds for vaccine distribution and development, and send out another round of stimulus checks to Americans struggling as a result of the pandemic.

But as negotiations dragged on, and debates flared over restrictions on Federal Reserve lending authority, a deal remains elusive.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Friday evening, "as of right now, we have not yet reached an agreement, regretfully."

Asked about the possibility of a Friday deal, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the second-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters it would be "a triumph of hope over experience" for that to happen.

Lawmakers hope to attach any stimulus legislation to comprehensive government funding legislation, likely the last major bill to pass Congress this year.

This short-term extension of government funding would be the second time Congress has punted a shutdown deadline this month. Government funding was set to lapse last Friday, but Congress passed a short-term bill extending funding for one week to give lawmakers more time.

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Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, lamented the continuing impasse, saying in a statement the short-term funding bill "should not allow us to think we can continue to delay before finalizing this deal. The time for this agreement was months ago."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID stimulus update: Trump signs 2-day government funding bill