Fedweek

Washington DC, Sept 9 2020: Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, M.D., M.P.H., the US Surgeon General, arrives to appear before a Senate committee hearing on "Vaccines: Saving Lives, Ensuring Confidence, and Protecting Public Health."

Congress has returned from a recess, with a range of unfinished business and one important deadline on its plate in what is planned as only a short working period before recessing again in early October past the elections.

With the end of the current fiscal year September 30 now just three weeks away, one immediate focus of attention will be to prevent a partial government shutdown that otherwise would occur with the lapse of spending authority. While the House has passed 10 of the 12 regular appropriations bills, the Senate has not moved any even through the committee level, meaning that a temporary extension would be needed for most if not all federal agencies.

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Officials have said there is a tentative agreement to enact such a measure lasting past the elections, potentially until sometime in December. That would defer until that time decisions on numerous issues tied to those bills, including the January federal pay raise.

Typically such measures, called continuing resolutions, keep spending generally at current levels while adding funds in certain areas. One possible add-on would be a budget supplement for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has seen a decrease in the fees that fund most of its operations. It has twice delayed threatened furloughs of about three-fourths of its workforce, but the latest deferral lasts only through the end of this month.

Meanwhile, there has been little progress toward agreement on another priority matter that stalled before the recess, a further pandemic relief bill. Senate Republicans have raised the prospects of voting soon on a measure that is even smaller in scope than the one they introduced earlier—and which Democrats rejected on grounds that much more was needed. Republicans for their part have shown no inclination for a bill close to the widescale one the Democratic-controlled House passed in May.

That measure, in addition to adding funding for unemployment benefits and other forms of assistance, called for boosting hazardous duty pay for those in frontline positions, including federal employees, and for maintaining maximum levels of telework until certain standards are met, along with several minor benefits-related provisions.

Also potentially a priority once voting begins—this week for the Senate, next week for the House—would be to finalize the annual DoD authorization bill, a closely watched measure for which there is pressure to enact before the elections. The House-passed version would extend to some additional categories of federal employees the paid parental leave authority that will begin effective with births, adoptions or foster placements that occur October 1 or later.

The House bill also contains several workplace-related provisions, including one to restrict the department’s ability to refuse to bargain by invoking national security considerations. The Senate bill does not contain counterparts to either provision.

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