As rank-and-file members await text of mammoth bill, both parties play up wins
Now that a coronavirus stimulus deal has been made, congressional leaders on Capitol Hill want to make sure their colleagues will support it.
Republican and Democratic leaders Sunday touted policy victories for their sides after announcing a deal had been reached Sunday, hoping to ensure they have enough votes Monday on the last big thing Congress will do before heading home for the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the nearly $900 billion package was narrowly targeted, as Senate Republicans had wanted, and bore a resemblance to a proposal he put forward over the summer.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer played up the revival of several popular programs that started in March with the first coronavirus aid package, the $1.7 trillion CARES Act. But they said they expected to do more after Joe Biden becomes president.
“A Democratic President Joe Biden will be able to focus the American people’s attention on a Senate, the Republican members of the Senate who are obstructing, getting in the way of what they need,” Schumer said at a press conference Sunday evening.
The package includes an extension of pandemic-related federal unemployment programs and a revival of an add-on payment for the jobless, $300 a week for 11 weeks. It includes another round of direct payments to households, at $600 per individual and child, and ensures families with mixed legal citizenship status will be eligible for those payments as well.
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It includes $284 billion for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans to small businesses, and $15 billion targeted to help live entertainment venues as well as independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.
Another $82 billion would go to schools and colleges to help them cope with the pandemic and retrofit their facilities to make them safer.
The deal includes a variety of provisions aimed at helping individuals and families who have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. Federal food aid and child nutrition would get an extra $13 billion. Another $25 billion would go toward rental assistance and a moratorium on evictions would be extended.
Even items seemingly unrelated to the pandemic made it into the deal. A bipartisan plan to curtail unexpected “surprise” medical billing was included, as were tax breaks for clean energy and an expansion of Pell grants for college students.
Absent from the deal were major asks from both parties — increased COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and non-profits, which Republicans sought, and direct aid to state, local and tribal governments, which was a Democratic priority.
For Republicans, the selling point will be how much smaller the stimulus will be compared to what Democrats wanted.
“For months, Senate Republicans have consistently supported a targeted rescue package, under $1 trillion, focused on the same kinds of policies that we have settled on today,” McConnell said.
The nearly $900 billion stimulus will be married with a $1.4 trillion bill providing funding for the federal government through September 2021, for a massive $2.3 trillion combined bill. The House had passed a stopgap one-day funding extension through midnight Monday. The Senate was expected to also clear it, and President Donald Trump’s signature was expected by the end of Sunday, which would prevent a government shutdown.
The size and scope of the final bill were one reason lawmakers said Sunday they wanted to make sure they had time to examine the text, which was not expected to released until sometime Monday.
“You know, we all trust each other, but this is poker. You always cut the cards in poker, even if you’re playing with friends,” said Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.