Congressional negotiators have finally reached a compromise on the major sticking point holding up the pandemic relief bill and the government funding bill.
The holdup was caused by Republican efforts to sunset an obscure Federal Reserve program that had been created by the $2 trillion CARES Act passed last April. The programs were a pandemic relief measure and were supposed to be ended by year’s end.
But Democrats wanted the nearly half-trillion dollars in unused cash in the programs for the Biden administration. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) insisted there would be no relief bill unless Democrats agreed to end the program and not to start others without congressional approval.
Some Republicans think the Federal Reserve loan program would have given a blank check to Democrats.
“Senate Republicans achieved all four of our objectives regarding the CARES Act Federal Reserve lending programs,” Toomey spokesperson Steve Kelly said.
“This agreement rescinds more than $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds; definitively ends the CARES Act lending facilities by Dec. 31, 2020; stops these facilities from being restarted and forbids them from being duplicated without congressional approval,” Kelly added. “This agreement will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes.”
You just can’t leave a half-trillion dollars lying around when Democrats are playing. Lord knows what they would have spent it on.
“Now that Democrats have agreed to a version of Sen. Toomey’s important language, we can begin closing out the rest of the package to deliver much-needed relief to families, workers, and businesses,” a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NBC News.
Compromise language is being finalized and any open items are expected to be worked out overnight, according to two aides.
It’s still unclear what’s going to be in the package. It’s believed that there was going to be $300 a week in extended unemployment benefits, a one-time payment to taxpayers of $600, and money for small businesses, schools, transportation, and vaccine distribution. The cost of $900 billion is in line with what Republicans have wanted to spend since the fall.
There’s a possibility of a revolt by the far left and some on the right who either don’t think it’s enough or who believe it’s too much. But there are probably enough lawmakers on both sides to pass it.
The journey to achieve this round of pandemic relief reads like an old Norse Saga. So many times over the last five months both sides were on the brink of an agreement only to fall short for one reason or another. The presidential election played a role too. Democrats refused to pass anything, lest Donald Trump get credit for it.
In the end, both sides swallowed their objections and will likely pass it.
This may be the last gasp for crisis legislating. By the time Democrats get around to introducing a multi-trillion-dollar relief bill, tens of millions of Americans will have been vaccinated. The Democrats will try to gin up a crisis atmosphere in order not to let it go to waste, but they’ve shot their bolt.
If there is another pandemic relief bill, it will be smaller and much more targeted at specific problems. Biden will have to settle for that.