US lawmakers reached a deal for a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package for millions of Americans as the nation struggles against the world's largest outbreak of the virus.
Top Capitol Hill negotiators have sealed a deal on an almost $1 trillion Covid-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.
The agreement, announced by congressional leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
It came after months of battling and posturing, but the negotiating dynamic changed in Republicans' favor after the election and as the end of the congressional session neared. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted this fall.
Congress was working under a deadline of midnight Sunday, needing to reach consensus both on assistance to hard-pressed American households and companies and on the 2021 federal budget in order to avoid a government shutdown.
House leaders informed lawmakers that they would vote on the legislation on Monday, and the Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.
'Get It Done'
Delays in finalising the agreement prompted the House to take up a one-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight Sunday. The Senate was likely to pass the measure Sunday night as well.
The final agreement would be the largest spending measure yet. It combined Covid-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education. The government-wide funding would keep the government open through September.
Passage neared as coronavirus cases and deaths spiked and evidence piled up that the economy was struggling. The legislation had been held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.
President Donald Trump was supportive of the effort, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. “GET IT DONE,” he said in a tweet late Saturday.
Why isn’t Congress giving our people a Stimulus Bill? It wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of China. GET IT DONE, and give them more money in direct payments.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2020
Still, Democrats wanted more. Pelosi, in a letter to colleagues, called the package an initial step. “In 31 days, when Joe Biden enters the White House, more help will be on the way,” Pelosi said.
The Fed has estimated that the jobless rate will end the year at 6.7 percent before dipping to 5 percent next year, still a long way from the 3.5 percent registered in February.