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: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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