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No deal yet on new federal COVID relief bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks past reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks past reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Proposal would send $600 to most Americans.

Posted: Dec 17, 2020 7:13 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators are closing in on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that would deliver additional help to businesses, $300-per-week jobless checks and $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. But there was no deal quite yet.

The long-delayed measure was coming together as Capitol Hill combatants finally fashioned difficult compromises, often at the expense of more ambitious Democratic wishes for the legislation, to complete the second major relief package of the coronavirus pandemic.

A hoped-for announcement Wednesday failed to materialize as lawmakers across the spectrum hammered out details of the sprawling legislation and top negotiators continued to trade offers. But lawmakers briefed on the outlines of the aid bill freely shared them.

It's the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act in March, which delivered $1.8 trillion in aid and more generous jobless benefits and direct payments to individuals. Since then, Democrats have repeatedly called for ambitious further federal steps to provide relief and battle the pandemic, while Republicans have sought to more fully reopen the economy and to avoid padding the government's $27 trillion debt.

President-elect Joe Biden is eager for an aid package to prop up the economy and deliver direct aid to the jobless and hungry, even though the package falls short of what Democrats want. He called the emerging version “an important down payment" and promised more help next year.

Republicans, too, are anxious to approve some aid before going home for the year.

“We’re still close and we’re gonna get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday evening as he left the Capitol. And during a Senate GOP lunchtime call a day earlier, party leaders stressed the importance of reaching an agreement before the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election.

The details were still being worked out, but lawmakers in both parties said leaders had agreed on a top-line total of about $900 billion, with direct payments of perhaps $600 to most Americans and a $300-per-week bonus federal unemployment benefit to partially replace a $600-per-week benefit that expired this summer. It also includes the renewal of extra weeks of state unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. More than $300 billion in subsidies for business, including a second round of “paycheck protection" payments to especially hard-hit businesses, are locked in, as is $25 billion to help struggling renters with their payments and provide food aid and farm subsidies, and a $10 billion bailout for the Postal Service.

Democrats acknowledged that the removal of a $160 billion-or-so aid package for state and local governments whose budgets have been thrown out of balance by the pandemic was a bitter loss.

“It's heartbreaking for us," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, whose state has big fiscal problems.

The emerging package was serving as a magnet for adding on other items, and the two sides continued to swap offers. It was apparent that another temporary spending bill would be needed to prevent a government shutdown at midnight on Friday. That was likely to easily pass.

House lawmakers returned to Washington on Wednesday in hopes of a vote soon on the broader package, which would combine the COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion governmentwide funding bill and a host of other remaining congressional business, including extending expiring tax breaks and passing other unfinished legislation.

Negotiations intensified on Tuesday after months of futility. Before the election, with Democrats riding high in the polls, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a hard line for more aid. Now, McConnell is playing a strong hand after a better-than-expected performance in the elections limited GOP losses in Senate races.

The frightening, record surge in COVID caseloads and deaths, combined with troubling economic indicators, however, is mandating an agreement, though the emerging package contains less economic stimulus than the March aid bill.

“The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong,” Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. “I think that is widely understood now. It’s a very positive thing that we may finally be getting that.”

McConnell successfully pushed to get Democrats to drop their much-sought $160 billion state and local government aid package while giving up a key priority of his own — a liability shield for businesses and other institutions like universities fearing COVID-19 lawsuits. Democrats cited other gains for states and localities in the emerging deal such as help for transit systems, schools and vaccine distribution.

The addition of the $600 direct payments came after recent endorsements from both President Donald Trump and progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who remains dissatisfied about the overall package.

“Everything that is in that package is vitally needed," Sanders said Wednesday on MSNBC. “The problem is that it is a much smaller package than the country needs in this moment of economic desperation."

A poisonous dynamic has long infected the negotiations, but the mood was businesslike in two meetings in Pelosi's Capitol suite Tuesday that resulted in a burst of progress.

Pressure for a deal is intense. Unemployment benefits run out Dec. 26 for more than 10 million people. Many businesses are barely hanging on after nine months of the pandemic. And money is needed to distribute new vaccines that are finally offering hope for returning the country to a semblance of normalcy.

The looming agreement follows efforts by a bipartisan group of rank-and-file lawmakers to find middle ground between a $2.4 trillion House bill and a $500 billion GOP measure fashioned by McConnell.

Their $908 billion proposal has served as a template for the talks, although the bipartisan group, led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, favored aid to states and localities instead of another round of stimulus payments. The CARES Act provided for $1,200 payments per individual and $500 per child.

“I think that the work that our bipartisan group did really helped to stimulate this," Collins said.

With Congress otherwise getting ready to close up shop, lawmakers are eager to use the relief package to carry other unfinished business.

A leading candidate is a 369-page water resources bill that targets $10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental, and coastal protection projects. Another potential addition would extend favorable tax treatment for “look through” entities of offshore subsidiaries of U.S. corporations. Meanwhile, thousands of craft brewers, wineries, and distillers are facing higher taxes in April if their tax break isn’t extended.

The end-of-session rush also promises relief for victims of shockingly steep surprise medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers drop out of insurance company networks. That measure, combined with an assortment of other health policy provisions, generates savings for federal funding for community health centers.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 612701

Reported Deaths: 7761
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1270801803
Ramsey53350911
Dakota47466477
Anoka43482465
Washington27810296
Stearns22764227
St. Louis18353320
Scott17763139
Wright16615153
Olmsted13587104
Sherburne1218596
Carver1080349
Clay830792
Rice8300112
Blue Earth772844
Crow Wing691799
Kandiyohi673185
Chisago629955
Otter Tail592687
Benton588298
Goodhue487674
Douglas480881
Mower478834
Winona466452
Itasca463968
Isanti447567
McLeod436661
Morrison429562
Beltrami411863
Nobles411750
Steele401819
Polk391372
Becker390057
Lyon366454
Carlton357158
Freeborn353634
Pine338123
Nicollet335145
Mille Lacs316856
Brown309340
Le Sueur301228
Todd289633
Cass289133
Meeker267644
Waseca241823
Martin237633
Roseau212921
Wabasha20883
Hubbard198941
Dodge19173
Renville184246
Redwood178941
Houston176516
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165323
Fillmore160510
Faribault157820
Chippewa154438
Pennington154120
Kanabec148128
Sibley147710
Aitkin140237
Watonwan13629
Rock129919
Jackson123212
Pipestone117326
Yellow Medicine115620
Pope11416
Murray107710
Swift107718
Koochiching96919
Stevens92711
Clearwater89517
Marshall89017
Lake85121
Wilkin84613
Lac qui Parle76222
Big Stone6134
Grant5958
Lincoln5873
Mahnomen5669
Norman5519
Kittson49222
Unassigned49093
Red Lake4037
Traverse3835
Lake of the Woods3504
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 376815

Reported Deaths: 6122
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk59215646
Linn21567342
Scott20530250
Black Hawk16850320
Woodbury15378230
Johnson1479586
Dubuque13627215
Dallas1150699
Pottawattamie11393177
Story1092548
Warren594392
Clinton565894
Cerro Gordo564898
Webster546397
Sioux520574
Muscatine4956106
Marshall493679
Des Moines481776
Jasper454273
Wapello4402124
Buena Vista432340
Plymouth405782
Lee396958
Marion372378
Henry301737
Jones301357
Bremer294663
Carroll287252
Boone273735
Crawford273541
Benton264255
Washington261051
Dickinson251145
Mahaska235151
Jackson225943
Kossuth222166
Clay217927
Tama213872
Delaware213343
Winneshiek201337
Buchanan197834
Page195722
Cedar194323
Hardin192544
Wright191240
Hamilton189251
Fayette188943
Harrison182873
Clayton173258
Butler169135
Madison168019
Floyd165242
Mills164724
Cherokee162238
Lyon161241
Poweshiek159836
Allamakee156452
Hancock154034
Iowa149124
Winnebago147031
Calhoun144813
Cass142155
Grundy139733
Emmet137341
Jefferson135535
Sac133320
Shelby132238
Louisa130749
Union129535
Franklin129223
Appanoose128749
Mitchell127343
Chickasaw126017
Humboldt126026
Guthrie125332
Palo Alto115224
Montgomery106938
Howard105522
Clarke102624
Monroe101533
Keokuk100432
Ida93735
Adair90132
Davis88525
Pocahontas87022
Monona86731
Greene80011
Osceola79517
Lucas78323
Worth7648
Taylor67112
Decatur6649
Fremont64910
Van Buren57318
Ringgold57124
Wayne56623
Audubon53613
Adams3504
Unassigned80
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