By Kristina Peterson and Jesse Newman
WASHINGTON -- The House was expected to move Tuesday to pass a spending bill that would keep the government running through Dec. 11 but without farm-aid funds sought by the White House.
The bill, introduced Monday by House Democrats, sparked frustration in the GOP-controlled Senate. Partisan tension is running high after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he would move to swiftly fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death Friday of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1.
The spending bill "will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Monday. She said the short-term bill would allow time to agree on bipartisan legislation to fund the government for the full fiscal year.
Mrs. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had agreed earlier this month to pass a short-term spending bill devoid of any contentious measures, referred to as "clean" on Capitol Hill. But the bill became controversial Monday when Democratic leaders opted not to include a request from the White House to replenish early a program President Trump has tapped as aid to farmers.
Negotiators had been discussing pairing an infusion of farm-aid funds with a provision sought by Democrats to extend a program expiring at month's end for families of school-age children, according to aides from both parties. The program enables families to buy groceries, replacing the free or reduced-price meals they would have received at school. But the spending bill released Monday left out both.
Republicans said Democratic leaders had reneged on a bipartisan agreement reached Friday, while Democrats said no final deal had been reached.
Mr. McConnell criticized the bill's omission of farm aid but didn't say outright whether Senate Republicans would vote it down.
"House Democrats' rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need," Mr. McConnell said in a tweet Monday. "This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America."
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said the farm aid was "desperately needed" but that the dispute wouldn't shut down the government.
One possibility is that the Senate adds the farm funding onto the spending bill before sending the legislation back to the House, aides said. But such back-and-forth negotiations risk bringing Congress to the brink of a partial government shutdown, if the dispute isn't resolved by next Thursday.
The White House had requested $21 billion for the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp., or CCC, a Depression-era program designed to stabilize farm incomes. It permits borrowing as much as $30 billion from the Treasury to finance its activities.
Democrats said they had concerns over replenishing a program if that meant giving President Trump a blank check to use for political purposes after he announced more aid for farmers at a campaign rally in Wisconsin last week.
The CCC program has traditionally been used to finance noncontroversial payments established under bipartisan farm bills. But critics have objected more recently when administrations unilaterally used it for other purposes. Lawmakers placed restrictions on its use between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in response to the Obama administration's use of the program for disaster assistance following crop losses in 2009.
The Trump administration has tapped the CCC to help finance trade relief for farmers as well as the first round of coronavirus-related aid to farmers. However, Congress included some funding to reimburse it in previous relief legislation passed in March.
Democrats and Republicans diverged Monday in their assessment of whether the CCC program would need to be shored up early, before its annual replenishment, which typically takes place in November or December after it submits financial forms and is audited, according to the Congressional Research Service. Opinions differed over whether the program would be depleted before it had completed sending out farm-bill payments in October.
The Agriculture Department said Covid-19 relief payments pledged by the administration had left it with only about $2 billion, and that it would be forced to prioritize which farm bill payments could be made starting in October.
But Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Monday that Congress had already provided the Agriculture Department enough funding for it to send out October payments, and then it would be reimbursed in November.
"If there are additional needs, the [Agriculture] secretary has tremendous flexibility to transfer unspent funds to fully fund Farm Bill programs," Ms. Stabenow said.
The Farm Bureau estimated last week that once early October payments have been sent, the CCC program could be exhausted by November.
Republicans and Democrats in farm states objected to its being left out of the spending bill.
"I am deeply frustrated that once again Washington is playing games with the vital aid that Iowa's farmers need," said Rep. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa).
Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jesse Newman at email@example.com