WASHINGTON — After months of stalemate, Congress struck a deal on nearly $900 billion in Covid-19 relief, including a new round of direct payments and help for jobless Americans, families and businesses struggling in the pandemic.
"More help is on the way," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday evening on the Senate floor. "Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement."
The agreement includes stimulus checks of up to $600 per person for individuals earning $75,000 per year and $600 for their children – the same requirements as the first round of stimulus checks.
It provides relief for the jobless, including an extension of unemployment insurance and a federal unemployment insurance bonus of $300 per week, over $284 billion more in loans for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers, $69 billion in testing and vaccine distribution funds and $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools.
It also includes the Democrats' priority of $25 billion in rental assistance and a one-month extension of the eviction moratorium. More than $13 billion in food assistance is also in the bill.
The package excludes the Republican priority of liability protection from Covid-19-related lawsuits for businesses, universities and health care centers. It also doesn't include hundreds of billions of dollars for states and localities for Medicare and for teachers and first responders who have come under financial distress during the pandemic.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the package beginning Monday.
The measure is characterized as an emergency bridge through the first quarter of 2021. President-elect Joe Biden and leaders of both parties have said they intend to revisit Covid-19 relief in the new year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it a “first step.”
Negotiations bled into the weekend, forcing members to extend a government funding extension to provide time to allow pass both the COVID relief measure and a $1.4 trillion government funding bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2021.
As Sunday came to a close, it became clear that lawmakers wouldn't be able to pass the sweeping legislation before funding was set to expire midnight. Congress later Sunday then passed a one-day stopgap bill to give both chambers enough time to work through the legislation.
Biden applauded the deal in a statement on Sunday, saying he was "heartened" by its bipartisan support. He also pledged that his administration would immediately "undertake additional steps to get the virus under control and build our economy back better than it was before this crisis" once he takes office next month.
Months of fits and starts of unsuccessful talks have led to lapses in provisions of the CARES Act, including the $600-a-week federal unemployment bonus, aggravating the suffering of millions of Americans who have struggled to make ends meet.
The agreement had been expected early last week, but it hit a roadblock after some Republicans, led by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, demanded an end to Federal Reserve authority over emergency lending. Democrats pushed back, accusing the GOP of seeking to sabotage the economy under Biden. Senior lawmakers reached a compromise on the issue late Saturday.
The parties had long been at odds over price tag and policy, but negotiations were kick-started in recent weeks by a bipartisan group of moderate senators and House members, known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, which quietly began informal discussions to negotiate a viable framework.
Their talks resulted in an agreement on a $748 billion proposal that became the basis of negotiations among McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as well as the Trump administration.
“With hundreds of hours over Zoom between the Problem Solvers and the bipartisan group of senators, it seems like we may have broken the biggest impasse in recent Congressional history – all to help families, small businesses and communities beat the pandemic,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said.
Stimulus checks were included at the last minute at the insistence of a rare coalition involving Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., House progressives and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. The Trump administration also supported the idea.