WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders said Sunday that they reached a deal on a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes individual checks, loans to small businesses and benefits to the unemployed struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending months of gridlock in negotiations.
“Moments ago, the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement. It will be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon.
McConnell, hailing the “bipartisan breakthrough,” said the bill’s text must be finalized and, barring any “last-minute obstacles,” pass the House and Senate before President Donald Trump can sign it into law. Both chambers are expected to debate and vote on the package Monday.
The measure will be tied to a $1.4 trillion must-pass spending bill that will fund federal agencies and programs through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., bump elbows as they attend a lunch with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 12.
Averting a partial government shutdown deadline, Congress passed a one-day extension of government funding Sunday evening, and Trump signed it into law, giving lawmakers one more day to review the deal. The deal is likely to pass the House and Senate as top leaders on both sides of the aisle argued for its passage.
The agreement ends months of wrangling between Republicans and Democrats over the type and size of legislation to help the nation weather a pandemic that has killed more than 317,000 Americans, infected millions and shuttered scores of businesses.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor the deal was “far from perfect” but will deliver “emergency relief” to Americans. He vowed it would not be the “last word” on COVID-19 stimulus and said he would push for another bill once President-elect Joe Biden took office.
Democrats declared victory in keeping top Republican priorities like COVID-19 liability protections for schools and businesses out of the package, though they also were unable to secure one of their top priorities of aid for state and local governments. President-elect Joe Biden has called the package “a good start,” and Democrats are hopeful that priorities not fully addressed in the relief package will get an extra boost when the new president moves into the White House.
Schumer told reporters at a Sunday evening press conference he hoped for a “more robust” bill on state and local funding and other provisions once Biden was sworn into office, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted they would have an “easier” time negotiating a bill than they did with a Republican-controlled Senate and Trump in the White House.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives on Capitol Hill on December 20, 2020 in Washington, DC.
The measure, which Trump is likely to sign, would establish a temporary $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit (less than the $600 provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March) for the next 10 weeks and $600 direct payments to most Americans (less than the $1,200 checks approved in the spring), with $600 payments included for dependents.
The bill, part of a bipartisan spending deal funding the government through Sept. 30 also includes:
$25 billion for direct rental assistance
The extension of an eviction moratorium
The extension of the PPP small business lending program and the expansion of its eligibility
$15 billion in grants for live venues
$82 billion in education funding
$30 billion for procurement and distribution of the vaccine
A tax credit for paid sick leave
An end to surprise medical billing
Government spending was set to expire Friday, but Trump signed a bill passed by both chambers that kept the government open and gave negotiators on Capitol Hill another week to work out a compromise.
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Congress has not passed a comprehensive relief package since March. As case totals climbed and benefits lapsed, Democrats and Republicans were unable to come together on another deal. The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate offered their own versions of legislation only to be rejected by the other side.
Negotiations started and stopped over the course of the year, the two sides often blaming one another for the impasse as Americans and businesses hoped for relief.
A late summer effort failed to produce a deal right before lawmakers went on a weekslong recess, prompting a string of executive orders from Trump. Talks picked up before the election as moderate lawmakers urged leadership to offer struggling Americans some form of relief, but the two sides were unable to produce a compromise. Discussions started again this month, both sides agreeing relief is desperately needed as Americans head indoors for the winter and coronavirus cases spike.
As of Sunday, the USA had reported more than 17.8 million confirmed cases.
Though both sides of the aisle promised a deal on government funding, several shutdowns have taken place in the past several years. Since Trump took office, the government has shut down three times, including for 35 days in 2018 – the longest shutdown in modern U.S. history. It stemmed from a standoff between Congress and the White House over funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.