Legislators are signaling tentative optimism about the passage of a nearly $ 900 billion coronavirus stimulus package and government funding bill on Sunday after the Senators reached a “tentative” settlement late Saturday night on a dispute over federal lending powers .
Nonetheless, they are working against the clock: a deal or a temporary extension of funding must be passed on Sunday by midnight – otherwise the government will have no money to function and will have to close.
The economic talks, which had stalled for months, appeared to be nearing resolution late last week, but were ultimately gripped by a question about emergency loan programs within the Federal Reserve.
The Republicans, led by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), wanted to permanently end the economic support programs adopted at the central bank at the beginning of the pandemic, citing concerns that the programs are distorting the Fed’s role in the financial system. Democrats argued that the GOP’s real concern was that the programs would allow President-elect Joe Biden to take stimulus measures against which Republicans regardless of Congress would.
The Democrats reportedly agreed to allow these programs to be suspended around midnight on Sunday, promising that final legislation would include language preventing the Fed from recreating some of them without first consulting Congress.
However, the Fed would retain control of a narrow set of programs and would be able to restart them without the approval of Congress. The Fed will also have to return unspent money received from the Treasury Department as part of the first stimulus package in March – something it previously announced.
A Toomey spokesman called it a “tentative” deal, but leaders have signaled that it could pave the way for a vote on Sunday.
The dispute over the Fed followed – and as Emily Stewart of Vox has explained – a struggle to include aid to state and local governments in the stimulus package. Democrats have argued for months that this help is badly needed by local governments who have been forced to spend too much money on coronavirus supplies while faced with low tax revenues, but Republicans have spoken out against it.
Republicans, meanwhile, claimed that any incentive must include liability coverage to protect companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Democrats were firmly against it.
Eventually both sides decided to rule out these controversial proposals. But, as Stewart explained, some Republicans were concerned that state and local aid from the Fed might flow through their emergency loan programs. After the deal on Saturday evening, that’s no longer possible.
The final legal text is not available to the public and has not yet been made available to the legislature. So it remains to be seen how exactly the new restrictions will work for the Fed. But now that there’s an agreement to move the talks forward, lawmakers are one step closer to relief before the deadline for closings – and before unemployment benefits for millions of Americans run out on Monday.
Just before midnight on Saturday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the Senate Minority, said that Congressional lawmakers will likely vote on the bills on Sunday.
“If things continue on this path and nothing stands in the way, we can vote tomorrow,” he told reporters. “House and Senate.”
What the stimulus bill includes – and what doesn’t
Lawmakers have debated a number of bills since they were introduced Monday by a bipartisan group of senators. The package originally consisted of a $ 748 billion bill that will fund upgraded unemployment insurance for 16 weeks and a $ 160 billion bill that includes money for state and local aid and corporate liability coverage.
This second bill is off the table for now. And after negotiations, including the debate over the amount of direct payments to Americans, the final package will now be worth $ 900 billion.
However, there is no guarantee that the new bill will be passed – there may be other sticking points and details still need to be worked out. President Donald Trump has now signaled his readiness to sign the final product of Congress. However, he tweeted early Sunday morning: “GET IT DONE”.
Why is Congress not giving our people an incentive? It wasn’t their fault, it was China’s fault. Get it done and give them more cash on direct payments.
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2020
Overall, the aid package is expected to include new funding for unemployment, food and rental benefits for Americans, corporate aid and vaccine distribution funds. It will also include another round of stimulus checks – albeit with a number well below the first round of $ 1,200 checks sent out in the spring.
On the last day of talks on Sunday, some aspects of the bill are relatively closed. There will be support for small businesses, schools and other institutions. For example, $ 300 billion would be added to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to supplement wages lost by small business employees, and $ 82 billion would be spent on education, plus $ 10 billion on childcare.
With millions of Americans suffering from housing insecurity, difficulty paying rent, and potentially facing evictions, the package could also include rental and utility assistance of up to $ 25 billion and a wide moratorium on most evictions up to Also extending to January 31, 2021 billions of dollars for vaccine distribution guarantees.
A provision to expand federal unemployment insurance will also be included. As of Sunday morning, unemployed workers are likely to be eligible for $ 300 per week. Unemployment benefit could consist of 10-16 payments, but the payments would not be made retrospectively.
There will also be one-time payments to all Americans below a certain income level; These payments will reportedly be in the $ 600-700 range, although the details have not yet been finalized.
Legislators hope to be able to pass a bill on Sunday afternoon
At the moment there is not much gap between the two parties and there is strong time pressure to finally get something done, not just because of the urgent needs of many Americans, but to avoid a costly government shutdown.
The main thing that remains to be decided is how high the individual relief exams should be for Americans. Some lawmakers have argued that they need to be higher. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) said so when pushing for the checks to be worth $ 1,200 plus an additional $ 500 for children. Their attempts to enforce the problem failed after resistance from Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).
Seventeen House Democrats joined in calling for higher payments. Trump allegedly supports them too; According to the Washington Post, the president planned to demand up to $ 2,000 per person until aides stopped him from performing. Republicans were largely against increasing those checks or weekly unemployment insurance to keep the cost of the bill below $ 1 trillion.
There might also be some last-minute additions to other unrelated proposals – for example, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) supposedly hopes to work in the language of energy policy – but these additions are largely those on which a bipartisan agreement is already reached persists and the talks are unlikely to derail as much as the Fed question did.
House leaders have announced that they hope to have a bill to vote on by Sunday afternoon. If the final negotiations go smoothly, they have announced that the vote could take place at 1 p.m. (CET). A vote in the Senate would follow.