Leading members of Congress signed a late agreement on the last major obstacle to a Covid-19 financial aid package that cost nearly $ 1 trillion, making it possible to vote as early as Sunday.
A Democratic assistant said in an email that an agreement had been reached late on Saturday and that the compromise language was being finalized to seal a deal to be revealed on Sunday.
The breakthrough involved a struggle for Federal Reserve emergency forces that was abolished by an odd couple: the Senate top democrat and a highly conservative Republican.
“We’re getting very close, very close,” minority leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said earlier Saturday as he spent much of the day walking back and forth with GOP Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey had pushed for a provision to close Fed lending facilities, which Democrats and the White House said was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the upcoming Biden administration.
Covid-19 legislation has been held after months of disability, stagnation and bad faith, but talks became serious in December when lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline before leaving Washington for Christmas.
The bill, according to lawmakers and aides, would establish temporary $ 300 per week additional unemployment benefits and $ 600 direct incentive payments to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and funding for schools, caregivers and tenants. subject to deportation.
Voting is expected on Sunday
Schumer said he hoped both the House and the Senate would vote on the measure Sunday. It would require more cooperation than the Senate can usually muster, but a deadline for a government shutdown threatened at midnight Sunday and all sides were eager to leave by Christmas.
Toomey defended his controversial provision in a speech on the floor, saying that emergency forces were designed to stabilize capital markets at the height of the Covid panic this spring and yet expired at the end of the month. The language he had sought would prevent the Biden administration from restarting them.
Toomey has a stubborn streak and the Democrats also held on, but both sides saw the need for a compromise to clear the way for the Covid-19 relief measure plus $ 900 billion, which was attached to a $ 1.4 trillion spending bill. and a host of other bills that compiled much of Capitol Hill’s remaining legislative output from the Trump era.
This was the Fed emergency program, which was launched during the pandemic this spring, which provided loans to small and medium-sized companies and bought government and local government bonds. These bond purchases made it easier for these governments to borrow, at a time when their finances were under pressure from job losses and pandemic-related health costs.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that these programs, along with two corporate bond buyers, would close at the end of the year, leading to a first Fed objection. Under the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act, which was passed after the Great Recession, the Fed can only set up emergency programs with the support of the Secretary of the Treasury.
Democrats in Congress also said Toomey was trying to limit the Fed’s ability to boost the economy, just as Biden was ready to take office.
“This is about existing authorities that the Fed has had for a very long time, to be able to use in an emergency,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “It is a lending authority to help small businesses, government agencies, local governments in the midst of a crisis.”
Toomey questioned that allegation, saying his proposal “is not a comprehensive review of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority.”
The massive package would enclose much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished 2020 operations into a take-it-or-leave-it action that promised to be a foot thick or more. House lawmakers would probably only have a few hours to study it before voting on Sunday night.
A Senate vote would follow, possibly on Monday. An additional short-term funding bill would be needed to avoid the looming deadline – or a partial shutdown of unnecessary agencies would begin on Monday.
First significant pandemic aid since March
The $ 900 billion package was completed when the pandemic delivered its most terrible wave to date, killing more than 3,000 victims a day and straining health care. While the vaccines were on the way, most would not get them for several months. Unemployment claims increased.
The emerging agreement would provide more than $ 300 billion in business support as well as an additional $ 300 per week for the unemployed and the renewal of government benefits that would otherwise end shortly after Christmas. It included $ 600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine distribution agents; and money for tenants, schools, the postal service and people who need food help.
It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act passed almost unanimously in March, delivering $ 1.8 trillion in aid, more generous $ 600 per week bonus unemployment benefits and $ 1,200 direct payments to individuals.
The government-wide appropriation bill would fund agencies through next September. That move would likely provide a $ 1.4 billion final installment for President Donald Trump’s US-Mexico border as a condition of winning his signature.