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Trump, Congress avert shutdown, buy time for COVID-19 talks

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks during a news conference following a weekly meeting with the Senate Republican caucus, Tuesday, Dec. 8. 2020 at the Capitol in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a temporary government-wide funding bill into law on Friday, averting a federal shutdown at midnight and buying Congress time for on-again, off-again talks on COVID-19 aid.

The short-term measure passed the Senate just hours earlier by a unanimous voice vote without much drama and sent senators home for the weekend without a clear picture of what awaits next week. The bill sets a new deadline of midnight next Friday. The House passed the bill Wednesday.

The talks are stalled but there is universal agreement that Congress won't adjourn for the year without passing a long-delayed round of pandemic relief. An emerging $900 billion aid package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers hit a rough patch after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., swung against the effort. Still, negotiations are ongoing and pressure remains intense.

The House has recessed for a few days, with leaders warning members to be prepared to return to Washington to vote on the year-end deals.

Negotiators on a separate $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill appeared to be moving in a positive direction, said the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. This bill would serve as a vehicle to carry any year-end virus assistance.

“I’m hopeful we’re going to get there on both the omni and the COVID package," McConnell said.

Fixing the impasse over the COVID-19 aid package is a Capitol Hill head-scratcher and hard feelings are plentiful. But discussions over issues such as aid to schools are trending well, leadership aides in both parties say.

Trump has renewed a push for a fresh round of stimulus checks for Americans, proposing $600 per individual rather than the $1,200 that was sent out this spring. Cost concerns are responsible for the smaller amount.