U.S. congressional leaders reach deal on COVID-19 relief package
Senate votes to extend government funding to avoid shutdown, buy time to pass bill
Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on an almost $1 trillion US COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.
The agreement, announced by Senate leaders, would establish a temporary $300 US per week supplemental jobless benefits and $600 US direct stimulus payments to most people in the U.S., along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
The Senate voted Sunday evening to extend federal funding through Dec. 21 to avoid a government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to pass the new bill. The extension measure already passed the House of Representatives, and late Sunday, President Donald Trump signed it.
The House was expected to vote on the legislation on Monday, said a spokesperson for House majority leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. The Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.
"There will be another major rescue package for the American people," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said in announcing the agreement for a relief bill that would total almost $900 billion US. "It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long."
The final agreement is the largest spending measure yet. It combines the COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion US government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.
Because Democrats fought:<br><br>This emergency <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVIDrelief?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVIDrelief</a> won’t include any of the dangerous GOP corporate immunity provisions to limit workers' rights<br><br>This emergency <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVIDrelief?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVIDrelief</a> won’t include provisions that would gratuitously limit the Fed's authority & hamstring the Biden admin—@SenSchumer
Passage is nearing as coronavirus cases and deaths spike and evidence piles up that the economy is struggling.
Late-breaking decisions would limit the $300 US per week bonus jobless benefits — one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act in March — to 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks as before. The direct $600 US stimulus payment to most people is also half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual's payment begins to phase out after $75,000 US.
Trump is supportive, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. "GET IT DONE," he said in a tweet late Saturday.
It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the $1.8 trillion US CARES Act passed virtually unanimously in March.
The legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.
A breakthrough came late Saturday in a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That led to a final round of negotiations.
Win for taxpayers and for an independent Fed. Repurposes $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds to help pay for the new relief. Closes CARES Act lending facilities, blocks restart/copycats- stops Dems from using the Fed to circumvent Congress for policies they can't get enacted. <a href="https://t.co/a6VXulLrQK">https://t.co/a6VXulLrQK</a>—@SenToomey
Lawmakers had hoped to pass the bill this weekend and avoid the need for a stopgap spending bill, but progress slowed Saturday as Toomey pressed for the inclusion of a provision to close down the Fed's lending facilities. Democrats and the White House said it was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration, but Republicans rallied to Toomey's position.
After the announcement, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, announced additional details, including $25 billion US in rental assistance; $15 billion US for theatres and other live venues; $82 billion US for local schools, colleges and universities; and $10 billion US for child care.
The government-wide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion US instalment for Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.
The bill was an engine to carry much of Capitol Hill's unfinished business, including an almost 400-page water resources bill that targets $10 billion US for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects. Another addition would extend a batch of soon-to-expire tax breaks, including one for craft brewers, wineries and distillers.
The end-of-session rush also promised relief for victims of shockingly steep surprise medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers drop out of insurance company networks.
With files from Reuters