Loading...

Close But Not Yet: Deal Near on COVID-19 Economic Aid Bill

December 17, 2020by Andrew Taylor, Associated Press
Close But Not Yet: Deal Near on COVID-19 Economic Aid Bill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks past reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators are closing in on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver additional help to businesses, $300-per-week jobless checks and $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. But there was no deal quite yet.

The long-delayed measure was coming together as Capitol Hill combatants finally fashioned difficult compromises, often at the expense of more ambitious Democratic wishes for the legislation, to complete the second major relief package of the coronavirus pandemic.

A hoped-for announcement Wednesday failed to materialize as lawmakers across the spectrum hammered out details of the sprawling legislation and top negotiators continued to trade offers. But lawmakers briefed on the outlines of the aid bill freely shared them.

It’s the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act in March, which delivered $1.8 trillion in aid and more generous jobless benefits and direct payments to individuals. Since then, Democrats have repeatedly called for ambitious further federal steps to provide relief and battle the pandemic, while Republicans have sought to more fully reopen the economy and to avoid padding the government’s $27 trillion debt.

President-elect Joe Biden is eager for an aid package to prop up the economy and deliver direct aid to the jobless and hungry, even though the package falls short of what Democrats want. He called the emerging version “an important down payment” and promised more help next year.

Republicans, too, are anxious to approve some aid before going home for the year.

“We’re still close and we’re gonna get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday evening as he left the Capitol. And during a Senate GOP lunchtime call a day earlier, party leaders stressed the importance of reaching an agreement before the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election.

The details were still being worked out, but lawmakers in both parties said leaders had agreed on a top-line total of about $900 billion, with direct payments of perhaps $600 to most Americans and a $300-per-week bonus federal unemployment benefit to partially replace a $600-per-week benefit that expired this summer. It also includes the renewal of extra weeks of state unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. More than $300 billion in subsidies for business, including a second round of “paycheck protection” payments to especially hard-hit businesses, are locked in, as is $25 billion to help struggling renters with their payments and provide food aid and farm subsidies, and a $10 billion bailout for the Postal Service.

Democrats acknowledged that the removal of a $160 billion-or-so aid package for state and local governments whose budgets have been thrown out of balance by the pandemic was a bitter loss.

“It’s heartbreaking for us,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, whose state has big fiscal problems.

The emerging package was serving as a magnet for adding on other items, and the two sides continued to swap offers. It was apparent that another temporary spending bill would be needed to prevent a government shutdown at midnight on Friday. That was likely to easily pass.

House lawmakers returned to Washington on Wednesday in hopes of a vote soon on the broader package, which would combine the COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion governmentwide funding bill and a host of other remaining congressional business, including extending expiring tax breaks and passing other unfinished legislation.

Negotiations intensified on Tuesday after months of futility. Before the election, with Democrats riding high in the polls, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a hard line for more aid. Now, McConnell is playing a strong hand after a better-than-expected performance in the elections limited GOP losses in Senate races.

The frightening, record surge in COVID caseloads and deaths, combined with troubling economic indicators, however, is mandating an agreement, though the emerging package contains less economic stimulus than the March aid bill.

“The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong,” Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. “I think that is widely understood now. It’s a very positive thing that we may finally be getting that.”

McConnell successfully pushed to get Democrats to drop their much-sought $160 billion state and local government aid package while giving up a key priority of his own — a liability shield for businesses and other institutions like universities fearing COVID-19 lawsuits. Democrats cited other gains for states and localities in the emerging deal such as help for transit systems, schools and vaccine distribution.

The addition of the $600 direct payments came after recent endorsements from both President Donald Trump and progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who remains dissatisfied about the overall package.

“Everything that is in that package is vitally needed,” Sanders said Wednesday on MSNBC. “The problem is that it is a much smaller package than the country needs in this moment of economic desperation.”

A poisonous dynamic has long infected the negotiations, but the mood was businesslike in two meetings in Pelosi’s Capitol suite Tuesday that resulted in a burst of progress.

Pressure for a deal is intense. Unemployment benefits run out Dec. 26 for more than 10 million people. Many businesses are barely hanging on after nine months of the pandemic. And money is needed to distribute new vaccines that are finally offering hope for returning the country to a semblance of normalcy.

The looming agreement follows efforts by a bipartisan group of rank-and-file lawmakers to find middle ground between a $2.4 trillion House bill and a $500 billion GOP measure fashioned by McConnell.

Their $908 billion proposal has served as a template for the talks, although the bipartisan group, led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, favored aid to states and localities instead of another round of stimulus payments. The CARES Act provided for $1,200 payments per individual and $500 per child.

“I think that the work that our bipartisan group did really helped to stimulate this,” Collins said.

With Congress otherwise getting ready to close up shop, lawmakers are eager to use the relief package to carry other unfinished business.

A leading candidate is a 369-page water resources bill that targets $10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental, and coastal protection projects. Another potential addition would extend favorable tax treatment for “look through” entities of offshore subsidiaries of U.S. corporations. Meanwhile, thousands of craft brewers, wineries, and distillers are facing higher taxes in April if their tax break isn’t extended.

The end-of-session rush also promises relief for victims of shockingly steep surprise medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers drop out of insurance company networks. That measure, combined with an assortment of other health policy provisions, generates savings for federal funding for community health centers.

___

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.

In The News

Health

Voting

Political News

White House: Russia Prepping Pretext for Ukraine Invasion

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence officials have determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence officials have determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops to further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct "a false-flag operation" in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House. White House press... Read More

Second Gentleman Emhoff Acts as Public Link to White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — As America's first second gentleman, Doug Emhoff has attended a U.S. naturalization ceremony in New York, dished... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — As America's first second gentleman, Doug Emhoff has attended a U.S. naturalization ceremony in New York, dished up spaghetti and chocolate milk to kids at a YMCA near New Orleans and reminisced with second graders in Detroit about an early job at McDonald's.... Read More

Governors Turn to Budgets to Guard Against Climate Change

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Their state budgets flush with cash, Democratic and Republican governors alike want to spend some of... Read More

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Their state budgets flush with cash, Democratic and Republican governors alike want to spend some of the windfall on projects aimed at slowing climate change and guarding against its consequences, from floods and wildfires to dirty air.  Democratic governors such as California's... Read More

January 14, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Senate Bills Seek to Enforce Bans on Stock Trades by Members of Congress

WASHINGTON — Two bills introduced in the Senate this week would broaden the ban on members of Congress buying and... Read More

WASHINGTON — Two bills introduced in the Senate this week would broaden the ban on members of Congress buying and selling stocks while they hold public office. The bills from Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley follow a Business Insider report showing 52... Read More

January 14, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court to Weigh In on Ted Cruz Campaign Loan

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether a Federal Election Commission limit on the amount campaigns can... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether a Federal Election Commission limit on the amount campaigns can use of post-election contributions to repay debts they owe to the candidates themselves violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The case stems from... Read More

January 14, 2022
by Kate Michael
European Green Deal Could Alter Trade, Investments and Politics Around the World

WASHINGTON — The European Union has claimed the role of global climate champion by taking charge of climate change discussions... Read More

WASHINGTON — The European Union has claimed the role of global climate champion by taking charge of climate change discussions and passing an ambitious set of policy initiatives that codify the bloc’s push for climate neutrality by 2050. But the EU’s plan to get to net-zero... Read More

News From The Well
Exit mobile version