By Kristina Peterson 

WASHINGTON -- A spending bill that Congress needs to pass to avoid a partial government shutdown next month hit last-minute snags Friday, as lawmakers and President Trump sparred over aid for farmers and election security.

Lawmakers had hoped to unveil Friday a short-term spending bill to keep the government running after its current funding expires on Oct. 1. But fights over what to include in the legislation -- potentially the only major bill to get signed into law before the election -- delayed finalizing what is expected to be a bipartisan agreement that could pass in both the House and Senate next week.

One debate emerged over the White House's request to include $21 billion for the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp., or CCC, a Depression-era program designed to stabilize farm incomes and which permits borrowing of as much as $30 billion from the Treasury to finance its activities. Democrats said they objected to replenishing a program that they say President Trump is tapping for political purposes after he announced more aid for farmers at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday night.

The CCC program helped finance the first round of coronavirus-related aid to farmers, although Congress included some funding to reimburse it in previous relief legislation passed in March. But aides said its resources were already being depleted even before Mr. Trump announced a second round of $13 billion in farm aid at Thursday night's rally.

Funding that second round could impede the program's ability to send out noncontroversial commodity support and conservation programs established by the farm bill, aides said. Once early October payments have been sent, the CCC program could be exhausted by November, the Farm Bureau estimated this week.

Mr. Trump is eager to turn the matter into an election-year fight with Democrats. On Thursday night, the president spoke to reporters on Air Force One for more than 20 minutes off the record. He agreed to only allow one comment to be used on the record: "She doesn't want to give farm aid to the farmers. She doesn't want to give farmers any help," the president said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.)

Democrats said that while they supported the CCC program, they said the administration's relief effort has favored bigger farms over smaller ones.

"The payments going out to farmers have not been fair," Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said on the Senate floor Thursday. "They have been picking winners and losers, they have been picking regions in the south, big farms in the south, over the Midwest, over our smaller farmers and over those who frankly many of whom have had the biggest losses."

Lawmakers were also negotiating Friday over whether to include additional funding for election security. Democrats had hoped to include $3.6 billion for state and local officials to help them hold elections during the pandemic, which has prompted many areas to expand vote-by-mail options and invest in protective equipment for poll workers.

Republicans pointed out that they have already given $400 million to help overcome coronavirus-related election challenges in the Cares Act, which passed in March.

"The Senate has provided historic sums of money for this important purpose and significant portions of it are still unspent," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) wrote in a letter Thursday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.)

Mr. Schumer earlier this week called for the formation of a special bipartisan committee, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, to ensure the election's integrity, in addition to more funding.

"I am hopeful we can still find agreement, on a bipartisan basis, to help our states with critical funding to prepare for this historic election," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Lawmakers were also discussing whether to include a bipartisan measure that would give the U.S. Census extra time to finish its count of the U.S. population and deliver that information to the president and Congress.

Mrs. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed earlier this month to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government running when its funding expires on Oct. 1.

It wasn't clear Friday afternoon if the spending bill would be finalized later in the day, or over the weekend.

"We're just working out the details," Mrs. Pelosi said Friday on Bloomberg TV. "I have said for a while now that we would keep government open."

--Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 18, 2020 17:05 ET (21:05 GMT)

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