Congress is closing in on a stimulus bill that’s more notable for what isn’t in it rather than what is.
Gone from the package currently under consideration is aid for state and local government. Republicans had dug in on that issue, saying any relief bill that contained the aid was dead.
But also gone is the Republican requirement that there be broad liability protection for businesses reopening after the pandemic. Democrats had refused to include the protection in their bills.
To achieve a compromise, both sides gave up an important priority and it appears a new bill will be crafted pulling several elements from other proposals together in one package.
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“We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities,” McConnell announced on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
“We committed to continuing these urgent discussions until we have an agreement and we agreed we will not leave town until we’ve made law,” the GOP leader added. “The American people need more help, it’s that simple. Further targeted relief is now months overdue.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday that “we are close to an agreement.”
He cautioned that “it’s not a done deal yet, but we are very close.”
No one has seen the bill in writing but sources say it will contain an unknown amount for extended unemployment benefits, and “other avenues to deliver aid to states, localities, territories and tribes.” It will also cost an unknown amount for an individual stimulus check of an undetermined amount.
Hopefully, before the bill is voted on, congressional negotiators will remove those question marks and have some actual numbers.
The size and eligibility requirements for the second round of payments weren’t immediately clear. The CARES Act payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child cost almost $300 billion, but lawmakers are looking at a second round that has a lower price tag. The White House last week had proposed direct payments of $600 per adult and per child, which analysts estimate would cost about $170 billion.
Politico reports that the bill will also include money for PPP small business loans, vaccine distribution, education, transportation, and health care.
Negotiators are trying to speed agreement on a bill so they can present it along with the $1.4 trillion government funding bill that needs to be passed by Friday. Congressional leaders believe it will be an easier vote if the pandemic relief bill is attached as a rider to the funding bill.
This won’t be the last time a pandemic relief bill will be considered. Democrats are planning a truly massive spending measure they will introduce in the House soon after Biden is sworn in. It will contain every bell, every whistle, every Christmas tree ornament, every wild, cockamamie idea of “social justice” the Democrats can cram into it.
It won’t have much to do with recovering from the pandemic but nobody is complaining.