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Lawmakers haggle over details as U.S. Congress closes in on $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill

EconomyDec 16, 2020 08:16PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. A man sits in an outside dining area during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York 2/2

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional negotiators were haggling on Wednesday over details of a $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill that is expected to include $600-$700 stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, as a Friday deadline loomed, lawmakers and aides said.

Top members of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-led Senate sounded more positive than they have in months on a fresh response to a crisis that has killed more than 304,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

"We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "We need vaccine distribution money, we need to re-up the Paycheck Protection Program to save jobs, we need to continue to provide for laid-off Americans."

PPP is the federal loan and grant aid program to small businesses suffering from the pandemic.

But congressional aides were struggling on Wednesday to draft legislative language as rates of COVID-19 infections soar to new highs, even as the United States starts to vaccinate people. The American economy is showing signs of weakening.

The measure, to be attached to a massive spending bill that must pass by Friday to avert a government shutdown, was not expected to include a dedicated funding stream for state and local governments, which has been a key Democratic priority, but opposed by Republicans, or new protections for companies from lawsuits related to the pandemic, something high on the Republican agenda.

The lack of new funds for state and local governments grappling with the pandemic "really hurts. That's something ... I would like to see included and I don't think will be," said the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin.

But the details of several issues were unresolved. One argument was over whether to increase reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to local governments for expenses related to COVID-19, like personal protective equipment for schools. Democrats said that would cost about $1 billion, but Republicans were wary.

"If it’s simply a way of disguising money for state and local governments, we’ll have a lot of opposition," said the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Thune.

Durbin said the goal was to reach an agreement on Wednesday and have it ready for voting beginning on Thursday. But as the day stretched into evening, that seemed less likely.

The House Democratic leader, Steny Hoyer, said that if the Friday midnight deadline for approving the spending measure is not met, he could envision another stopgap spending bill of three or four days' duration to keep government agencies open while negotiations continue.

BOOSTING THE ECONOMY

Thune said the proposed direct payments to individuals would be around $600 to $700 per person. Some lawmakers such as Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, were pushing for more.

Lawmakers were discussing $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits, and about $330 billion to help small businesses, Thune said.

The $900 billion price tag for the package would be paid for by $600 billion in repurposed funds from other parts of the budget, and $300 billion in new money, according to a senator privy to the discussions.

The negotiations come at a key moment for a U.S. economy clearly weakening after an initial rebound from a recession triggered by the pandemic earlier this year. Consumer spending, buoyed through the summer and early fall by more than $3 trillion in federal assistance, has hit a wall as new lockdowns limit business activity and keep people home.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden said the stimulus package was encouraging but more aid would be needed.

"It looks like they're very, very close, and it looks like there is going to be direct cash payments, but it's a down payment - an important down payment - on what's going to have to be done beginning at the end of January, into February," he told reporters.

Commerce Department data showed retail sales fell unexpectedly sharply in November, with consumer outlays on goods and services showing softness across the board.

The Federal Reserve promised on Wednesday to keep funneling cash into financial markets further into the future to bolster the economy, even as policymakers' outlook for next year improved following the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine.

Lawmakers haggle over details as U.S. Congress closes in on $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill
 

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Comments (9)
Bernard Tan
Bernard Tan Dec 16, 2020 11:41PM ET
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Today, the concern is not the strength of the US$ coz its going down with unlimited printing. Neither is it important to keep the S&P Index up. What’s important is to give money for food at the table, keep Americans alive. The US$ can drop. Who cares? The S&P can drop, who cares? But a hungry man makes an angry man....and that’s dangerous to the Govt stability.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Dec 16, 2020 11:41PM ET
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U r partially right. Money is emotion. When one’s pockets r empty, she/he lost all logic.
Anthony Anthony
Anthony Anthony Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Yeah, keep giving free money to the jobless, they will never go find a job.
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Me comment
Me comment Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Better than giving billions to corporations that pocket it and not help the employees stay on their payroll or money given to corporations that don't qualify but "slip" through the red tape an get it anyway.
Nicolas Daoud
Nicolas Daoud Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Ur a doosh thats all i gotta say you heartless person. You know how its affecting people mentally and physically? So before u write comments like that think Anthony
Nicolas Daoud
Nicolas Daoud Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Im not american or benefitting from anything but i have seen how damaging it is to people who didnt deserve to lose their jobs or anything and have no way of making income so just keep comments to urself. DOOSH
Edward Chong
Edward Chong Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Nicolas Daoud will u grow up
Bernard Tan
Bernard Tan Dec 16, 2020 2:55PM ET
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Go find a job? There’s no employers around! Most employers are also looking for jobs themselves! Anyway, the money CANNOT keep giving by Fed coz there is no money to give except print more money. Hence, what is the meaning of the US Dollar if Fed can print unlimited amounts in exchange for tangible items like food and housing? Why should anyone sell their products for useless US$???
Nysom Nysom
Nysom Nysom Dec 16, 2020 12:28PM ET
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so 600 shekels is enough
ishak ahmad
ishak ahmad Dec 16, 2020 11:32AM ET
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the same reaching on agreement stuff , the politicians way ! been months ,,,same old story same old words.
Costinho Mokoena
Costinho Mokoena Dec 16, 2020 11:19AM ET
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Resist the fraudulent left
YC Teng
YC Teng Dec 16, 2020 10:54AM ET
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Veto from Trump coming in Act 2....
perplexed76 .
perplexed76 . Dec 16, 2020 9:50AM ET
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the show is about to be over... The virus won.
Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon Dec 16, 2020 9:19AM ET
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this thing changes with every hour and article I read.
Zach Lohman
Zach Lohman Dec 16, 2020 9:19AM ET
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Chaos is often useful for an investor. I suspect even more so for a politician.
Jonathan Epstein
Jonathan Epstein Dec 16, 2020 9:18AM ET
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Over under on this passing today?
Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez Dec 16, 2020 9:18AM ET
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ill take the over. Christmas spirit?
Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez Dec 16, 2020 9:18AM ET
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what are you taking?
Zach Lohman
Zach Lohman Dec 16, 2020 9:18AM ET
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Over...agreement in principal & vote Friday with spending bill.
Zach Lohman
Zach Lohman Dec 16, 2020 9:18AM ET
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Anthony Hernandez Hopefully there will be no need for 3 ghostly visits tonight.
 
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