Congress on the verge of passing massive stimulus

Congress on the verge of passing massive stimulusDecember 21, 2020

Congress is poised Monday to approve a $900 billion coronavirus rescue package, capping a dramatic final week of negotiations just days before Christmas.

Both the House and Senate aim to clear the stimulus bill — which will be paired with a sprawling year-end spending measure — by midnight, when the latest government funding deadline hits.

But it will be a long day on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers prepare for hours of debate and voting as they take up one of the largest relief packages in U.S. history. Democratic and Republican leaders are confident they have the votes for passage, despite grumbling from both sides about the dysfunctional process that led to this point.

“I look forward to a strong bipartisan vote today on this legislation. Respecting it for what it does, not judging it for what it does not. But recognizing that more needs to be done,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a lengthy floor speech Monday morning, vowing that the incoming Biden administration would move quickly to deliver more aid to struggling Americans.

Aides expect to finish drafting the legislative text by around 10 a.m., with plans for the House Rules Committee to move quickly to tee it up for a floor vote. The House could vote as soon as mid-afternoon on the relief package, which includes another round of direct payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits and billions of dollars for struggling industries. More than $300 billion will go to small business loans, as well as new money for schools, hospitals and vaccine distribution.

Some of that aid could be doled out quickly: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC Monday that checks could start appearing in people’s bank accounts in the coming days.

“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week,” Mnuchin said, who struck an optimistic tone as he said the U.S. economy is “definitely in a much better position” than when Congress passed its last major relief measure in March.

Congressional leaders clinched the long-awaited agreement on the stimulus measure Sunday evening, after a weekend of fierce clashes over the Fed’s emergency lending powers.

Both chambers will also approve another enormous measure to fund the government through September, which encompasses a dozen appropriations bills.

As the final major piece of legislation of the 116th Congress, party leaders will tack on several other bills to the spending measure, an annual tradition that lawmakers describe as loading up the “Christmas tree.”

That includes a hard-fought agreement to protect patients from receiving “surprise” medical bills and a compromise version of an annual intelligence authorization.

Instead of rushing the measure through on Sunday night, the House and Senate approved a one-day stop-gap funding bill. The sprawling legislation taken up Monday will also include a week-long spending patch to avoid a government shutdown while the package is printed and finalized for President Donald Trump’s signature — a process that typically takes multiple days for any large piece of legislation.

Both parties have been scrambling to reach a deal this month, with a slew of assistance programs set to expire and pressure mounting to deliver more help amid a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Congress has not delivered any substantial relief since April.

The package will provide billions to struggling sectors like mass transit, movie theaters and performance venues. But others complain they have been left out, including state and local governments and restaurants.

The extra $300-per-week in federal unemployment aid also only lasts through March, which is still weeks, if not months, before the nation expects mass vaccinations.

Many lawmakers had been pushing for $1,200 individual payments — rather than the $600 that was included. And progressives had sought a complete moratorium on evictions, as well as rent and mortgage cancellation.

Pelosi said on the floor Monday that Democrats had been pushing for the $1,200 direct payments — which were included in the last relief bill — but ran into GOP opposition.

“I would like them to have been bigger, but they are significant and they will be going out soon,” Pelosi said on the floor.

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.

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