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Hill leaders eye new round of stimulus checks as part of $900 billion Covid relief deal

Congressional leaders, after months of a bitter stalemate and as millions of Americans have been eager for relief, are finally indicating...

Posted: Dec 16, 2020 9:52 AM
Updated: Dec 17, 2020 9:58 AM

Congressional leaders, after months of a bitter stalemate and as millions of Americans have been eager for relief, are finally indicating they're nearing a deal on a new rescue package that could pass both chambers within days.

The price tag for a stimulus deal could be close to $900 billion, a source familiar tells CNN, though many key details remained unknown throughout the day Wednesday.

The deal is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks at $600 per individual, but no money for state and local aid, a priority Democrats had pushed for, and no lawsuit protections, which Republicans wanted.

The measure is also expected to include an additional $300 a week in jobless benefits as well as up to $330 billion for small business loans and money for vaccine distribution.

But there are still provisions drawing pushback, including a Democratic push to include $90 billion in aid to states that would be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune told CNN that if that's 'simply a way of disguising money for state and local governments, it will have a lot of opposition.' He said it depends on how it's structured.

Even as talks are moving in a positive direction towards a deal, congressional leaders traded offers and went back-and-forth earlier Wednesday as they try to finalize a proposal and jam it through Congress in days, several sources told CNN.

That means it's still highly uncertain when Congress will vote -- and whether they will be able to tie the roughly $900 billion relief plan to a massive $1.4 trillion spending bill that Congress is trying to pass by the time the government runs out of money Friday night. Whether Congress will have to pass another stop-gap measure to keep agencies afloat remains to be seen.

On a conference call Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that votes on final passage could slip into the weekend, and he prepared his members to be ready for that possibility.

If that happens, it's possible there could be a temporary government shutdown until final passage since government funding runs out Friday night, and they are planning on tying the Covid relief package to the funding bill. Congress may have to pass a short-term stop-gap measure to prevent that from happening.

The stimulus proposal in the works amounts to about twice the amount that Senate Republicans have been proposing, but it is a fraction of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been demanding for months. Before the election, Pelosi had held out for a deal worth $2.2 trillion, but now she is willing to back a much smaller proposal, arguing that they will have another opportunity to push for more aid when Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

Congressional leaders weigh in

McConnell said in a floor speech Wednesday morning that Hill leaders have 'made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities,' and said, 'we agreed we will not leave town until we've made law.'

The struggle to get the stimulus package done also looms over the Georgia Senate runoff races that will determine which party controls the chamber next Congress. During the call with GOP senators, McConnell noted that direct payments for individuals and families have become a major issue in the race.

'Kelly and David are getting hammered' on the issue, he said, according to a source who heard his remarks, a reference to incumbent GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are both facing off against Democratic challengers.

On a conference call with House Democrats this morning, Pelosi signaled that the deal isn't final yet but offered the general outlines of the proposal. There wasn't a lot of pushback on the call, and sources described the atmosphere on the call as positive.

Pelosi blamed GOP insistence on lawsuit protections for businesses and others as a reason why state and local aid was not included in the proposal. She did point to other areas of the emerging proposal -- school funding, vaccine distribution and transportation projects -- where states and localities would get money. She contended that Democrats will push again for state and local aid when Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

Rather than giving direct aid to states, Hill leaders are looking at a $90 billion fund that would be administered by FEMA for aid to states and cities, senators say.

'Does it affect our vote count? Probably,' Thune cautioned.

Thune also said 'some of our folks won't like' $300 in weekly jobless benefits, but others will -- and noted that 'personal checks create concerns among some GOP members.'

Thune also said they appear to have upped the small business loans to $330 billion in this package, which Republicans support.

Once details are formally unveiled, Hill leaders will have to sell the plan to their caucuses and try to ram it through Congress quickly -- all with the threat of a shutdown looming at the end of the week.

It won't be an easy task. But top Democrats and Republicans expressed confidence Tuesday evening after the big four leaders met for the first time in months, emerging to say that a deal is finally in sight. But they refused to share any details.

How the legislative process could play out

Once it is finalized, leadership from both parties will have to brief the rank-and-file to sell them on the agreement and then move as quickly as possible to hold a vote in both chambers.

Negotiators are up against the clock ahead of a Friday at midnight deadline when government funding expires, and barring any major last-minute snags, lawmakers could be on track for a vote in the House on Thursday followed by a vote in the Senate on Friday. They would need unanimous consent from all 100 senators to schedule a vote, meaning if any senator objects, there could be at least a temporary government shutdown over the weekend.

Negotiators still need to introduce a $1.4 trillion government funding package. Following that release, the House Rules Committee meets to tee up a House vote, and when that happens, an amendment is expected be offered to tack on the Covid relief deal before sending the full package to the floor.

Once a vote takes place in the House, there will be little time left on the calendar before a potential shutdown is triggered.

With such a narrow margin for error, get ready for rank-and-file members to attempt to exert influence on the process in an effort to win concessions.

If a quick Senate vote is blocked, there could be a brief government shutdown over the weekend. And if lawmakers fail to imminently finalize a massive government spending bill for a new fiscal year, there is also a chance they could be forced to revert to a short-term funding patch instead, though lawmakers in both parties have made clear they don't want that to happen.

It's not yet clear how much buy-in a deal will get from the rank-and-file on both sides of the aisle, but there will likely be GOP concerns about the price tag.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, said 'probably' when asked if it was too much money.

GOP Sen. Rand Paul, however, signaled Wednesday that he won't stand in the way of a quick Senate vote.

'We probably won't object to the time limitations on it,' the Kentucky Republican told reporters.

While the emerging proposal is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks, the expected amount is not as much as what's being pushed by House progressives, Sen. Bernie Sanders and at least one Republican, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Sanders, who has been demanding $1,200 in checks, praised the emerging proposal for including stimulus checks even though it's expected to be in the range of $600-$700 range for individuals. He said he would keep demanding more, but he wouldn't say if he would object or slow down the deal to prevent it from passing by Friday.

'Two weeks ago ... there was virtually no discussion about direct payments,' Sanders said. 'So I'm proud of the progress that we've made ... I'm gonna continue to fight for more. Because people are in trouble right now and they need help, but it's a good start.'

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 338079

Reported Deaths: 7523
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23409440
DeSoto23069280
Harrison20064328
Rankin15119290
Jackson14743251
Madison10806227
Lee10568179
Jones8864169
Forrest8408159
Lauderdale7684243
Lowndes6917151
Lamar683789
Lafayette6502124
Washington5551139
Pearl River5060150
Bolivar4923134
Oktibbeha484798
Panola4739112
Warren4690127
Marshall4670106
Pontotoc442873
Monroe4293137
Union429179
Neshoba4232181
Hancock417788
Lincoln4148116
Pike3605113
Leflore3587125
Tate351488
Alcorn346474
Sunflower344994
Adams338488
Scott336676
Yazoo335673
Simpson319290
Copiah319068
Itawamba312480
Coahoma311585
Tippah300568
Prentiss295063
Covington287183
Marion281780
Leake281575
Wayne274643
Grenada267588
George266251
Newton258964
Tishomingo238070
Winston236284
Jasper227548
Attala223373
Stone219437
Chickasaw217560
Holmes197674
Clay194654
Clarke184480
Tallahatchie182742
Calhoun179432
Smith177535
Yalobusha170240
Walthall144448
Lawrence140026
Greene137634
Amite135643
Noxubee134235
Perry132438
Montgomery131544
Carroll125431
Webster119132
Jefferson Davis114234
Tunica113227
Benton105925
Claiborne104831
Kemper101429
Humphreys99833
Franklin86723
Quitman84319
Choctaw81819
Wilkinson76532
Jefferson70428
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 574737

Reported Deaths: 11492
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson839571589
Mobile46611857
Madison36938532
Tuscaloosa26841465
Shelby26769255
Montgomery25853624
Baldwin24213326
Lee16897181
Calhoun15210332
Morgan14990289
Etowah14721369
Marshall12855235
Houston11661292
Elmore10727217
St. Clair10587250
Limestone10535158
Cullman10323204
Lauderdale10044253
DeKalb9335191
Talladega8797187
Walker7659286
Autauga7456114
Jackson7295117
Blount7233139
Colbert6614142
Coffee6117131
Dale5393117
Russell467742
Chilton4666117
Covington4623125
Franklin447281
Tallapoosa4420157
Escambia425282
Chambers3880125
Dallas3707163
Clarke366462
Marion3413106
Pike326979
Lawrence3211101
Winston293972
Bibb282965
Geneva274283
Marengo259067
Barbour245161
Pickens239662
Butler237672
Hale232378
Fayette225064
Henry206645
Randolph196144
Monroe195041
Cherokee194548
Washington179339
Macon168352
Crenshaw165058
Clay163659
Cleburne159945
Lamar149738
Lowndes144854
Wilcox129831
Bullock126042
Conecuh119530
Coosa116729
Perry109928
Sumter108732
Greene98336
Choctaw63925
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 77°
Feels Like: 83°
Columbus
Clear
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Hi: 95° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 84°
Oxford
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Hi: 94° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 75°
Starkville
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Feels Like: 84°
Thursday will be another very hot and very humid day across Mississippi and Alabama. Many areas will be well above 100 degrees with the heat index, some even as high as 120 degrees in the Delta of Mississippi.
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