Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on the Senate floor Sunday that Congressional leaders have agreed to a deal on a COVID-19 stimulus package, finally delivering urgent relief to businesses and individuals.
“Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders in the Senate and the House finalized an agreement," McConnell said. "There will be another major rescue package for the American people."
The much-needed measure, coming in at more than $900 billion, will be voted on by the House Monday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), along with a $1.4 Trillion omnibus spending bill; the House will vote Sunday on a one-day stopgap bill to fund the government to avoid a shutdown.
The bill is likely to include $300 bonus jobless benefits and a $600 direct payment to most Americans, which is smaller than Democrats, including President-elect Joe Biden, would like.
“This agreement is far from perfect, but it will deliver emergency relief to a nation in the throes of a genuine emergency," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, noting the urgency of relief for Americans. "We should pass this deal immediately, tonight if we can.”
President-elect Biden has already promised more aid in the new year.
In a statement about the relief bill and the omnibus spending bill, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "we have reached agreement with Republicans and the White House on an emergency coronavirus relief and omnibus package that delivers urgently needed funds to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people as the virus accelerates."
“We are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people," they added, noting that the agreement includes "over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans," and "$25 billion in critically needed rental assistance for families struggling to stay in their homes and an extension of the eviction moratorium."
The coronavirus relief measure comes amid a frightening spike in coronavirus cases and deaths and accumulating evidence that the economy was struggling.
Late-breaking decisions would limit $300 per week bonus jobless benefits — one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act in March — to 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks as before. The direct $600 stimulus payment to most people would be half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual’s payment begins to phase out after $75,000.
Stimulus payments had gotten their own sort of bipartisan push. President Trump has voiced support for another round of checks, and progressive lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pushed for them along with Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.
It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the $1.8 trillion CARES Act passed virtually unanimously.
The COVID-19 legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.
The new proposal includes stimulus checks and additional unemployment aid but leaves out the state and local aid that Democrats have called for as well as the liability protections for businesses that Majority Leader McConnell has called his red line.
Negotiations over a deal have lagged over the last eight months, sometimes stalling for several weeks, despite millions of Americans filing for unemployment during that time and many business owners continuing to struggle.
“They ought to be angry,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN Thursday. “Congress should have acted.”
The measure was being added to a $1.4 trillion spending bill and combined with lots of other unfinished work, including previously stalled legislation to extend tax breaks, authorize water projects, and address the problem of surprise sky-high medical bills for out-of-network procedures.
It would be virtually impossible for lawmakers to read and fully understand the sprawling legislation before a House vote. Senate action would follow.
In the meantime, with a government shutdown deadline looming at midnight Sunday, lawmakers faced the reality of needing to enact another temporary spending bill — the second in as many days — to avert a shutdown of non-essential activities by federal agencies on Monday. They had not announced any plans, but such legislation quickly swept through on Friday to keep the government fully open another two days for weekend talks.
Lawmakers had hoped to avoid that step, but progress slowed Saturday as Toomey pressed for the inclusion of a provision to close down Fed lending facilities. Democrats and the White House said it was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration, but Republicans rallied to Toomey’s position.
The Fed’s emergency programs provided loans to small and mid-size businesses and bought state and local government bonds. Those bond purchases made it easier for those governments to borrow, at a time when their finances were under pressure from job losses and health costs stemming from the pandemic.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that those programs, along with two that purchased corporate bonds, would close at the end of the year, prompting an initial objection by the Fed. Under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law passed after the Great Recession, the Fed can only set up emergency programs with the support of the treasury secretary.
Toomey said those emergency powers were designed to stabilize capital markets at the height of the pandemic this spring and were expiring at the end of the month anyway. Democrats said that Toomey was trying to limit the Fed’s ability to boost the economy, just as Biden prepared to take office.
The emerging agreement on virus aid would deliver more than $300 billion to businesses and provide money for vaccine distribution, renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid.
The governmentwide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion installment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.