WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are closing in on a roughly $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal Wednesday morning that may include another round of stimulus checks and other much-needed benefits, according to a source familiar with negotiations not authorized to speak on the record.
The looming deal would also include a restart to a boost to federal unemployment insurance benefits and some form of relief for state and local governments, according to the source. Liability protections, an ongoing hurdle in negotiations that Republicans had previously insisted be in any deal, were not expected to be in this package, the source said, noting lawmakers were still negotiating all the issues in the package.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the second-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters Wednesday he believed stimulus checks of $600 or $700 were part of discussions, saying to “double that for family and kids.” The unemployment benefit under discussion was about $300 per week, he said. About $330 billion was on the table to renew the Paycheck Protection Program for small business loan forgiveness, he said.
Senate leaders seemed optimistic about the prospects of a deal Wednesday morning. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor they made “major headway” on closing a deal that could pass both the House and Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they were on the “precipice” of an agreement.
Schumer acknowledged the emerging deal did not include everything Democrats would have wanted, but said it was necessary in the “short term,” and vowed to “work in the future to provide additional relief.”
President-elect Joe Biden praised congressional progress on a stimulus package, calling it “encouraging,” but only as a down payment toward greater spending in at the beginning of 2021.
The emerging contours of the deal caused some heartburn on both sides of the aisle.
“We’re not there. My job right now is to keep pushing for more,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., referring to the amount of unemployment insurance under consideration. Legislation passed in March had provided a $600 boost to unemployment benefits until it ran out in July.
And Thune told reporters there might be some Republican objection to the unemployment benefit but predicted it would be “doable.” Some Republican senators had previously objected to reviving the unemployment benefit, arguing it paid people too much if they were out of work.
But Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., citing the “emergency” need of the programs under discussion, told reporters on Capitol Hill, “we’re getting the things done that have the time urgency to it.”
After months of impasse in negotiations, congressional leaders finally seemed to break through the logjam after top leaders in the House and Senate met twice on Tuesday for hours-long meetings – a sign congressional leaders thought a deal was at hand. Lawmakers have until Friday to reach a relief deal if they hope to include it as part of a government funding package, needed to stop the government from shutting down at the end of the week.
Emerging from her office Tuesday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters, “we’ll be on schedule to get the job done.”
In order for any agreement bill to become law, both the House and Senate must pass the legislation, and President Donald Trump must sign it.
Congress has not passed a comprehensive relief package since March, and as case totals climbed and benefits lapsed, Democrats and Republicans were unable to come together on another deal. The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate offered their own versions of legislation only to be rejected by the other side.
Negotiations tended to start and stop over the course of the year, the two sides often blaming one another for the impasse as Americans and businesses hoped for relief.
A late summer effort failed to produce a deal right before lawmakers went on a weekslong recess, prompting a string of executive orders from Trump. Talks picked up ahead of the election as moderate lawmakers urged leadership to offer struggling Americans some form of relief, but the two sides were unable to produce a compromise. Discussions started again earlier this month with both sides agreeing relief was desperately needed as Americans head indoors for the winter and cases spike.
A framework introduced by lawmakers at the beginning of December became the basis for the negotiations between congressional leaders. The framework did not initially include stimulus checks, drawing the ire of progressive lawmakers and threats to vote against it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called it a “red line” if a stimulus deal did not include stimulus payments or unemployment insurance.
As of Wednesday morning, the U.S. had reported 303,800 deaths because of the coronavirus and16.7 million confirmed cases.
Contributing: Bart Jansen