Congress Close to Breakthrough on Economic Stimulus Proposal
WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved a $1.4 trillion relief package closer to approval Friday by joining pandemic assistance and economic stimulus measures into a single bill headed toward a vote in Congress.
Negotiations dragged on for months between Republicans and Democrats before the election.
Democrats sought $2.2 trillion in economic aid for Americans ravaged by economic collapse accompanying the spread of COVID-19.
Republicans wanted a more modest $500 million stimulus that relied heavily on helping the businesses most likely to rehire laid-off workers.
The negotiations took on greater vigor as the death toll from the pandemic set new U.S. records daily this week. Nearly 2,800 deaths were reported Thursday while infectious disease experts predicted the rate could climb to 4,000 per day.
In addition, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden urged swift action by Congress. Both said they would sign a bill approved by Congress.
The apparent breakthrough came Thursday during discussions between Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. It was the first time they had met in weeks.
McConnell said he saw “hopeful signs” for an agreement after earlier criticizing the Democrats’ proposals as too expensive.
Pelosi said at a press conference that the combined fiscal 2021 funding package, along with pandemic relief spending, “is the vehicle leaving the station.”
The economic stimulus portion of the bill is a $908 billion proposal divided among support for businesses as well as state and local governments. It does not include another round of stimulus payments to individuals, like the $1,200 checks given out last spring.
The biggest item would be $288 billion for businesses, particularly through the Paycheck Protection Program that would give them forgivable loans.
State and local governments would get $160 billion to help them avoid further staff and service cuts.
Other measures in the bill would grant a temporary liability shield to protect employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits; $82 billion for schools; $45 billion for transportation agencies and $25 billion for housing and rental assistance.
The $600-per-week unemployment benefit that expired in July would be replaced by a $300 a week benefit for 18 weeks.
The pandemic relief portion of the bill would be used to purchase and distribute the vaccines that are expected to win Food and Drug Administration final approval within days.
Pelosi denied during her press conference that she allowed negotiations with Republicans to drag on for months in hopes of winning concessions.
Instead, she said Biden’s victory during the election, along with the record pace of vaccine development by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Inc. and Moderna, Inc. changed the prospects for a deal in Congress.
“That is a total game changer, a new president and a vaccine,” Pelosi said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent adversary of Pelosi, said Thursday, “I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill.”
Biden said in a statement Friday that he was “encouraged” by the progress of the negotiations but added that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not enough. It’s just the start. Congress will need to act again in January.”
He said his economic advisors were putting together another economic stimulus to propose after he takes over as president in January.
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