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Senate set to approve bill just hours before government will shut down

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The U.S. has reached 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Now experts are looking ahead, and the forecast for the fall and winter isn’t good.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The Senate prepared Wednesday evening to vote on a spending measure to keep federal agencies running hours before the government was set to shut down.

The legislation, which is likely to pass in a largely bipartisan vote, would go to President Donald Trump, who is likely to give final approval to the bill. The federal annual spending bill expires at midnight, meaning Congress has to act Wednesday to keep the government open.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said during his weekly news conference Wednesday that the chamber would pass the bill “sometime tonight.” 

A government shutdown in the midst of a global pandemic could be devastating as many Americans struggling financially because of COVID-19 are more reliant on the federal government. 

The bill would extend government funding levels until Dec. 11 – a month after the election.

Lawmakers added last-minute pandemic relief funding before the bill was approved in the House Sept. 22, which gave it bipartisan support. The bill includes billions for a farm bailout program pushed by Republicans as farmers continue to be affected by the Trump administration’s trade policies and the pandemic’s impact on agriculture. Democrats got more money – $8 billion – for pandemic food assistance programs for families.

More: House OKs spending bill, sending legislation to Senate days before government set to shutdown

More: White House and Congress reach informal deal to avert government shutdown at end of month

More: The battle in Congress to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg dashes hopes for a COVID-19 relief package

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The two additions marked the only pandemic-related relief in the bill. Though pressure has mounted for Congress to pass more COVID-19 relief, lawmakers have been at an impasse for months over the size and scope of an aid bill. Negotiations appeared all but dead this month, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin restarted talks. 

House Democrats introduced another coronavirus bill Monday with a $2 trillion price tag. It is not likely to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate. 

The last government shutdown from December 2018 to January 2019 was the longest on record, at 35 days. Stemming from a standoff between Congress and the White House over funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, it forced about 800,000 federal government workers to take furloughs or go without pay.

Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University and a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said it would be a “catastrophic blow” to have a shutdown in the middle of the pandemic, especially if workers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health were furloughed. COVID-19 has taken more than 206,000 American lives.

“Nobody really wants to be blamed for the government shutdown,” especially so close to an

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