Friday, June 25

Congress nears agreement on Covid relief package after clearing major hurdle

WASHINGTON — Senior lawmakers were working Sunday to finalize legislation on coronavirus relief after having reached a compromise late Saturday night on one major hurdle holding up the expected $900 billion package.

A last-minute roadblock emerged on Friday as Democrats accused Republicans, namely Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey, of attempting to encumber the incoming Biden administration by cutting off the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending abilities created by the CARES Act meant to protect the already battered economy. Lawmakers came to an agreement on the issue late Saturday, according to multiple sources.

“Now that Democrats have agreed to a version of Sen. Toomey’s important language, we can begin closing out the rest of the package to deliver much-needed relief to families, workers, and businesses,” a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NBC News late Saturday.

Lawmakers worked overnight to hammer out compromise language, according to two aides.

Speaking from the Senate floor on Sunday, McConnell said he expected that the final deal would come “in a matter of hours.” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday there were “a few issues outstanding, but I’m quite hopeful that we’re closing in on an outcome.”

“It appears that barring a major mishap, the Senate and House will be able to vote on legislation as early as” Sunday night,” Schumer said.

Among the outstanding issues, according to multiple sources: the ability of small businesses to deduct PPP loans from their taxes, a provision to provide parents with vouchers for private school and paid family leave for coronavirus-related reasons.

The final legislation hasn’t been released yet, but the deal is expected to include direct payments of $600 for qualifying Americans, a federal unemployment insurance bonus of $300 a week, more money for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers and vaccine distribution funds.

A spokesperson for Toomey called the agreement an “unqualified victory for taxpayers.”

“Senate Republicans achieved all four of our objectives regarding the CARES Act Federal Reserve lending programs,” Toomey spokesperson Steve Kelly said.

“This agreement rescinds more than $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds; definitively ends the CARES Act lending facilities by Dec. 31, 2020; stops these facilities from being restarted and forbids them from being duplicated without congressional approval,” Kelly added. “This agreement will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes.”

Democrats, on the other hand, said the new language was a concession to Toomey and his GOP allies.

“After going back and forth all day with Leader Schumer, Sen. Toomey has agreed to drop the broad language in his proposal that would have prevented the Fed Chair from establishing similar facilities in the future to the ones created in March,” said a senior Democratic aide.

Congressional leaders settled on a framework midweek that was expected to include a $300 federal unemployment bonus, a new round of direct payments, small business funding and money to distribute Covid-19 vaccines. The negotiations come after months of fits and starts of unsuccessful talks that led to lapses in various provisions of the CARES Act, including the $600-per-week federal unemployment bonus, augmenting the suffering of millions of Americans across the country who have struggled to make ends meet.

The agreement was expected to be reached earlier in the week but hit a roadblock after some Republicans demanded an end to Federal Reserve authorities over emergency lending. Democrats pushed back, accusing the GOP of seeking to sabotage the economy overseen by incoming President Joe Biden.

The two 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 hammer out a viable framework.

Their talks resulted in an agreement on a $748 billion proposal that became the basis of negotiations between McConnell, Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as well as the Trump administration.

Alex Moe and Sahil Kapur reported from Washington and Alicia Victoria Lozano from Los Angeles.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

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