House Democrats released a proposal Monday that would fund the federal government through Dec. 11, a measure that would avoid a partial government shutdown if it is passed by the House and Senate by Oct. 1.
The proposed legislation would extend fiscal 2020 spending for most government departments as their annual budget bills have not yet been approved by Congress.
For the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, the bill places limits on some activities and bolsters funding for others. The DoD, for example, will not be allowed to launch any new multi-year contracts or activities for the duration of the legislation, with one notable exception -- the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
The legislation would allow the Navy to award a contract for the first two boats in the class and allocates $1.6 billion to support the program. The service has been in discussions with defense contractor General Dynamics for those vessels; the contract is estimated to be worth up to $21 billion.
Several bill provisions aim to help secure the livelihoods of federal and contract employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds usually used to pay some civilian Coast Guard employees have dried up during the pandemic; the legislation allows the service to use operations and support funding to pay their salaries. And the proposal would provide COVID-19 relief funding to the Veterans Canteen Service to ensure that the stores can continue operating.
The bill also increases funding for the VA's electronic health record modernization program, helping to keep it on track for its planned introduction in the Pacific Northwest this fall.
Last month, the VA introduced the centralized scheduling component of the program at the VA Central Ohio Health Care System, and it plans to stand up the new electronic health record system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, this fall after a seven-month delay related to the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the House passed its versions of the fiscal 2021 Defense and Veterans Affairs funding bills, which included $695 billion for the DoD and $241 billion for the VA. But the Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet moved any of its bills, putting Congress in the position of needing a continuing resolution to ensure that the government remains operational past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said Monday that the Senate has acted irresponsibly in not marking up any of its appropriations bills.
"While the House did its job and passed bills funding nearly every government agency, Senate Republicans did not even begin the appropriations process," she said. "This clean continuing resolution keeps the government open while giving Congress additional time to negotiate annual appropriations bills that will invest for the people."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he backs a short-term continuing resolution, although he expressed his dismay Monday on Twitter over the current House proposal, which he said does not adequately support American farmers.
The House is expected to vote on the continuing resolution this week. The Senate has not said when it will take up the measure.
In addition to funding the federal government, the House proposal bolsters funding for activities related to the presidential transition, should there be one after the Nov. 3 election, and for the District of Columbia to support presidential inauguration activities.
Under a continuing resolution, the departments must operate at the funding levels set in their fiscal 2020 approved budgets.