Congress is struggling to seal last Covid aid

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after the Senate GOP leadership election on Capitol Hill in Washington, the United States, on November 10, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Congress had just hours to prevent the government from closing on Friday as lawmakers tried to put the finishing touches on a massive coronavirus bailout.

Heads of state and government on Capitol Hill have said for days that they are on the verge of reaching an agreement on a $ 900 billion aid proposal that would cost $ 1.4 trillion in spending. However, some new disputes have prevented Washington from sending new aid to warring Americans for the first time in nearly nine months.

Congress has little time to act. Funding expires on Saturday at 12:01 a.m. ET.

“Talks remain productive,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said Friday morning. “In fact, I am now even more optimistic than last night that a non-partisan two-chamber framework for a major rescue package is very close.”

Lawmakers could pass another short-term funding measure to keep the government going while it goes through the process of writing an aid package and pushing it through both houses of Congress. Even this strategy may not prevent a shutdown. Any senator could delay the swift passage of a temporary spending measure known as a rolling resolution.

The leaders of Congress have pledged to work through the weekend and pass a bill before heading home for the vacation. The health and livelihood of millions of Americans depend on Congress sending more aid before the end of the year.

McConnell said, “The Senate will be here until an agreement is reached whenever possible.”

With healthcare workers receiving Covid-19 vaccinations during a crushing wave of infections across the country, federal funding is required for further distribution of the shots. The outbreak has killed more than 310,000 people nationwide as the US struggles to contain its spread.

Meanwhile, 12 million people will lose unemployment insurance the day after Christmas if Congress doesn’t extend the pandemic provisions that expanded benefits. If a federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of the month, millions are at risk of losing their homes.

While the developing $ 900 billion relief plan is designed to expand these unemployment benefits, it is currently unclear how it will address evacuation protection and any assistance to those who owe rent.

The proposal is expected to reintroduce a federal unemployment insurance surcharge of $ 300 per week. A federal payment of $ 600 a week introduced in March expired in the summer, dropping revenues by millions.

The package would include direct payments of $ 600, although it’s unclear who is eligible to receive them. Families are expected to receive $ 600 for children as well. Progressives in Congress and some Republicans have labeled the sum too low for people to come by during the pandemic, finding that lawmakers easily approved a direct payment of $ 1,200 in March.

White House advisors have stopped President Donald Trump from sending last-minute checks for up to $ 2,000 to Americans, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

The plan would include at least $ 300 billion in small business support. It would also provide funding for the distribution and testing of Covid-19 vaccines and provide relief to hospitals.

The proposal would put money in schools and the transport sector.

A handful of problems sparked the final phase of negotiations. That includes a Federal Emergency Management Agency relief fund for states and restrictions that Republicans plan to transfer to the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers during the pandemic, according to NBC News.

Congress passed the $ 2 trillion CARES bill in late March, which provides solid economic support in the early stages of the pandemic. But lawmakers did not offer any new help in the months that followed, despite the ravages of the virus, financial lifelines falling by the wayside, and cracks in the economic recovery.

Democrats have pushed for significantly more relief. President-elect Joe Biden has called the $ 900 billion plan a “down payment” and has signaled that he will attempt to approve further aid when he takes office on Jan. 20.

McConnell pushed for new spending of only about $ 500 billion for months. Many in his party resisted putting so much money into a relief plan.

Next year, Democrats are likely to push for new aid to state and local governments who may have to lay off first responders when faced with budget crises. The GOP did not agree to send the relief without corporate liability coverage.

The leaders of Congress agreed to set both issues aside in negotiating the year-end package.

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