April 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Congressional leaders close in on coronavirus aid deal

After months of impasse, House and Senate leaders were on the brink Wednesday of announcing an economic aid package of about $900 billion, which is expected to add $300 a week to state compensation for the unemployed and provide a one-time direct payment of up to $600 for most Americans.

The compromise is also expected to include another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses as well as money for vaccine distribution, child care and schools.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor early Wednesday that the leaders made “major headway” toward getting a “targeted relief package” and have committed to not leaving Washington until a deal is reached.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) seemed to agree, saying, “As we race the clock to reach a final accord before the end of the year, we are close to an agreement. It’s not a done deal yet. But we are very close.”

The aid is expected to be tied to a $1.4-trillion spending package for the operations of federal agencies, which Congress must pass by Friday to keep the government open. If congressional leaders can get their members on board with the deal, a vote on the combined spending and aid package could be held as soon as Thursday.

The new relief package is based largely on a $748-billion relief bill that a bipartisan group of Senate and House moderates unveiled Monday as a compromise, with the addition of the new round of stimulus checks.

Negotiations had stalled for months over the total cost of the aid package, whether to provide money to state and local governments struggling with a drop in tax revenue because of the pandemic, and whether to shield businesses and organizations from liability if customers or employees contract the coronavirus. The state and local aid was a Democratic priority, the liability shield a Republican priority.

Little time remains before benefits under last spring’s relief measure, known as the CARES Act, expire at the end of the year. Without further aid, millions of Americans would lose the unemployment payments that have been a lifeline as the pandemic has worsened, reducing business activity.

Legislative leaders tentatively agreed in a closed-door meeting late Tuesday that the provisions on state and local aid and business liability should be set aside for the next debate over aid that is expected in the new year.

President-elect Joe Biden has urged lawmakers to pass what they can now, in hopes of another package in early spring once he’s in office. President Trump has largely been absent from the months of talks for relief, except for an occasional tweet urging Congress to spend what it takes — advice Republicans have not been inclined to follow.

“It looks like they’re very very close,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del. “And it looks like there’s going to be direct cash payments, but it’s a down payment — an important down payment on what’s going to have to be done beginning the end of January and into February.”