Congressmen concluded Wednesday on a $ 900 billion COVID-19 financial aid package that would provide additional assistance to businesses, $ 300 a week of unemployment checks and $ 600 in stimulus payments to most Americans. But there was no agreement yet.
The long delayed action began to gather when Capitol Hill fighters finally formed difficult compromises, often at the expense of more ambitious democratic demands for legislation, to complete the pandemic’s second major aid package.
A skipped announcement on Wednesday failed to materialize as lawmakers across the spectrum hammered out the details of the extensive legislation and top negotiators continued to trade deals. But the legislators informed about the contours of the support proposal freely.
It is the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act in March, which provided $ 1.8 trillion in support and more generous unemployment benefits and direct payments to individuals. Since then, Democrats have repeatedly called for ambitious additional federal measures to alleviate and combat the pandemic, while Republicans have sought to resume the economy more fully and avoid stopping the $ 27 trillion government debt.
Elected President Joe Biden is keen on a support package to strengthen the economy and deliver direct support to the unemployed and hungry, even if the package does not meet what Democrats want. He called the new version “an important down payment” and promised more help next year.
Republicans are also anxious to approve some help before going home for the year.
“We’re still close and we’ll get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday night as he left the Capitol. And during a GOP lunch call a day earlier, party leaders stressed the importance of reaching an agreement before the upcoming Georgia by-elections.
The details were still being worked out, but lawmakers on both sides said leaders had agreed on a top-of-the-line $ 900 billion total, with direct payments of perhaps $ 600 to most Americans and a $ 300 a week bonus to partially replace a federal unemployment benefit. $ 600 per week that expired this summer. It also includes the renewal of extra weeks of government unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. More than $ 300 billion in corporate subsidies, including a second round of “paycheck” payments to particularly hard-hit companies, are locked up, as well as $ 25 billion to help struggling tenants with their payments and provide food aid and agricultural subsidies, and a rescue of $ 10 billion for the postal service.
Democrats acknowledged that the removal of a $ 160 billion aid package for state and local governments whose budgets have been thrown off balance by the pandemic was a bitter loss.
“It’s heartbreaking for us,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, whose state has major fiscal problems.
The new package acted as a magnet for adding other items, and the two sides continued to exchange offers. It was clear that an additional temporary spending bill would be needed to prevent a government shutdown at midnight on Friday. It would probably pass easily.
House lawmakers returned to Washington on Wednesday in hopes of a vote soon on the broader package, which would combine the $ 1.4 trillion COVID-19 bill and a host of other remaining congressional deals, including extending valid tax breaks and passage of other pending legislation.
Negotiations intensified on Tuesday after months of nonsense. Before the election, with Democrats rising high in the vote, Parliament Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a hard line for more help. Now McConnell is playing a strong hand after a better-than-expected performance in the election limited GOP losses in Senate races.
However, the alarming, record-breaking increase in COVID cases and deaths combined with worrying economic indicators calls for an agreement, even though the emerging package contains less economic stimulus than the March bill.
“The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. “I think it’s widely understood now. It is a very positive thing that we are finally getting it. ”
McConnell successfully succeeded in persuading Democrats to release his much-needed $ 160 billion state and local government assistance package while giving up his own key priority – a shield of responsibility for companies and other institutions such as universities that fear COVID-19 lawsuits. Democrats cited other gains for states and localities in the emerging deal, such as help with transit systems, schools and vaccine distribution.
The addition of the $ 600 direct payments came after recently approved approvals from both President Donald Trump and progressives including Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Who is still dissatisfied with the overall package.
“Everything in that package is very necessary,” Sanders told MSNBC on Wednesday. “The problem is that it is a much smaller package than the country needs in this moment of economic desperation.”
A toxic dynamic has long infected the negotiations, but the mood was businesslike at two meetings in the Pelosis Capitol suite on Tuesday that resulted in an explosion of progress.
The pressure for a deal is intense. Unemployment benefits expire on December 26 for more than 10 million people. Many companies are barely hanging on after nine months of the pandemic. And money is needed to distribute new vaccines that finally offer hope of returning to a normal view of the country.
The looming deal follows efforts by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to find a middle ground between a $ 2.4 trillion house bill and a $ 500 billion GOP measure designed by McConnell.
Their $ 908 billion proposal has served as a template for talks, although the two-party group, led by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, favored support for states and localities instead of another round of stimulus payments. . The CARES Act provided for $ 1,200 payments per person and $ 500 per child.
“I think the work that our two-party group did really helped stimulate this,” Collins said.
With Congress otherwise getting ready to close the store, lawmakers are anxious to use the aid package to carry out other unfinished business.
A leading candidate is a $ 369 billion water resource bill targeting $ 10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environment and coastal protection projects. Another potential addition would extend favorable tax treatment for “browse through” offshore subsidiaries of U.S. companies. Meanwhile, thousands of craft breweries, wineries and distillers are facing higher taxes in April if their tax breaks are not extended.
The end of the session also promises relief for victims of shockingly steep medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers lose networks from insurance companies. That measure, combined with a range of other health policy provisions, generates savings for federal funds for the community health center.