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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: 768112

Reported Deaths: 8639
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1533481923
Ramsey63323978
Dakota56954525
Anoka53854520
Washington33598331
Stearns28397253
St. Louis23627358
Scott21603160
Wright21301171
Olmsted18125120
Sherburne15480115
Carver1361255
Clay1023599
Rice9966131
Blue Earth964559
Crow Wing9467109
Kandiyohi834397
Chisago833563
Otter Tail8020105
Benton7472111
Beltrami652879
Mower645440
Douglas627590
Goodhue619485
Itasca615382
Winona611254
McLeod593770
Steele585225
Isanti569274
Morrison556066
Becker532762
Polk510778
Freeborn487642
Nobles480852
Lyon454856
Carlton445566
Nicollet433352
Pine427031
Cass423144
Mille Lacs415367
Brown409947
Todd398836
Le Sueur385332
Meeker356253
Waseca327231
Martin326236
Wabasha29516
Hubbard289944
Dodge273310
Roseau263827
Fillmore243212
Redwood239643
Wadena236629
Houston231017
Renville227349
Faribault220230
Pennington216527
Sibley210612
Cottonwood196628
Kanabec191330
Chippewa190240
Aitkin182543
Watonwan170811
Pope16128
Yellow Medicine156620
Rock155019
Jackson146514
Koochiching138319
Clearwater136018
Swift134519
Marshall134320
Murray134311
Pipestone133327
Stevens124511
Lake109121
Wilkin102214
Lac qui Parle98324
Mahnomen89312
Norman8729
Big Stone7974
Lincoln7825
Grant7819
Kittson60822
Red Lake5899
Unassigned529124
Traverse5125
Lake of the Woods4714
Cook2460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 474151

Reported Deaths: 6785
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk74657729
Linn29194394
Scott24733274
Black Hawk20335358
Woodbury19207244
Johnson17988100
Dubuque15834229
Pottawattamie14276200
Dallas14109108
Story1288551
Warren774296
Cerro Gordo6951110
Webster6950111
Clinton6929101
Des Moines667594
Marshall641885
Muscatine6352113
Wapello5936137
Jasper578279
Lee565689
Sioux565676
Marion508191
Buena Vista491746
Plymouth463487
Henry389847
Jones370861
Washington366856
Benton359257
Bremer357168
Boone350937
Carroll346353
Crawford339347
Mahaska322856
Dickinson301052
Clay279133
Buchanan279039
Jackson273546
Kossuth271873
Hardin270249
Tama264976
Fayette260649
Delaware258546
Cedar249526
Page249328
Wright243645
Hamilton233954
Winneshiek233338
Floyd221845
Harrison217777
Madison216925
Clayton214558
Poweshiek211741
Iowa208029
Butler206638
Cass201557
Jefferson201040
Mills199929
Allamakee194753
Cherokee193844
Lyon192941
Hancock187639
Winnebago186633
Calhoun186116
Appanoose180850
Shelby178439
Louisa171052
Grundy168537
Humboldt167727
Emmet167146
Franklin164628
Mitchell164043
Union162637
Chickasaw159318
Sac157924
Guthrie155434
Montgomery142342
Palo Alto142032
Clarke141328
Keokuk139635
Monroe134335
Howard128222
Ida118641
Greene116315
Davis115225
Lucas113724
Pocahontas111423
Monona108738
Worth10818
Adair105335
Osceola94017
Fremont86111
Van Buren84221
Decatur82612
Taylor79713
Wayne74824
Ringgold67727
Audubon66814
Adams5095
Unassigned380
Rochester
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Mason City
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