Good Morning on the Hill: $900 billion virus relief bill oh-so-close but not a done deal; federal stimulus checks return to the negotiating table

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

Lawmakers project an air of confidence they will soon be able to pass a monstrous COVID-19 relief and omnibus funding package, but 11th-hour snags could send Congress into a weekend session as it looks to complete its year-end business.

After hours of discussions on Tuesday, negotiators indicated a day later that they are moving toward a deal that would provide roughly $900 billion in COVID-19 relief. The stimulus bill is expected to be packaged with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending measure that would expire Sept. 30.

“We’re still talking and I think we’re gonna get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters.

However, as The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports, the gargantuan package is hitting some last-minute snags, with lawmakers across the board attempting to attach pet projects to the end-of-the-year must-pass bill.

“It’s still a ways off, I think. They’ve still got some things they’re negotiating. … It’s been a slow roll so far,” John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Among unsettled and high-profile items in the relief bill are direct checks and unemployment insurance. According to Thune, the current plan would give payments to Americans of around $600 or $700 — nearly half of the $1,200 checks that went out after the CARES Act in March. Whether the checks would have the same $75,000 income cap for individuals and $150,000 for married couples included in the CARES Act remained under discussion.

Progressives, headlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), expressed their dismay at the smaller direct payments. Sanders — who earlier in the day got into a heated back-and-forth with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on the topic during a Senate Democratic conference call — panned Democratic negotiators for relenting on a larger bill and likely settling on a bill that is less than a third the size of the HEROES Act approved by the House in May.

“I don’t know how Democrats started accepting a framework of only $900 billion,” Sanders told reporters (The Washington Post).

The Washington Post: Congressional leaders add stimulus checks to $900 billion relief package as they near deal.

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

CNBC: Stock futures rise, with stimulus negotiations in focus.

Timing of a potential deal remains very much up in the air. McConnell told the Senate GOP to be prepared to be at the Capitol for a rare weekend session as they work toward an agreement.

The political impetus for a deal is also at the forefront for the GOP leader. According to one Senate Republican aide, McConnell told lawmakers on a conference-wide call Wednesday that Georgia Sens. David Perdue (R) and Kelly Loeffler (R) are getting hammered by the lack of a deal weeks ahead of their runoffs on Jan. 5 that will determine the Senate majority. For weeks, GOP sources have told The Morning Report that as the Georgia races go, so will the posturing for a deal.

“McConnell’s one abiding priority is keeping the majority. So if a deal gets the Georgia seats, he’s going to walk across burning coals to get a deal,” a second Senate GOP aide told The Morning Report late Wednesday.

The Hill: Republicans hold slight edge in Georgia Senate runoffs: poll.

The Hill: McConnell getting much of what he wants in emerging relief deal.

Failure to weave together two major bills by this weekend could result in a government shutdown unless lawmakers pass a second stopgap funding measure to provide more time to wrap up details. According to The Hill’s Mike Lillis, leading lawmakers in both parties, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) support another short-term extension if needed.

“I’m against shutting down government,” Hoyer told reporters on a press call. “I think it is a stark admission of failure.”

The Hill: Experts say stimulus deal could head off double-dip recession.

%d bloggers like this: