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Congress nearing deal on $900 billion COVID-19 relief package

Congress is on the brink of an agreement on a long-awaited $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, thanks to a last-minute compromise over a key loan provision that has been struck by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

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The bipartisan compromise means a final deal was now “very close,” Schumer said as he emerged from negotiations close to midnight, Fox News reported.

“If things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow,” he said, meaning Sunday.

The stumbling block lifted as negotiations stretched into Saturday night, when Toomey and Schumer struck an agreement on whether the Federal Reserve could restart emergency lending programs to help corporate, municipal and medium-size businesses.

Toomey had insisted the Fed and the Treasury Departement to be barred from setting up any loan program similar to those set up this year, The New York Times reported.

Democrats, meanwhile, had indicated that they will refuse to discuss any curb on the central bank’s lending power, which they see as a partisan bid to undermine the incoming Biden administration.

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Under the compromise, only lending programs that would be identical, or nearly identical, to those established this year would be banned, The Times reported.

There had been broad consensus by late Saturday afternoon that the Toomey roadblock was the last and most significant obstacle preventing a deal.

The ultimate relief package is expected to provide $300 billion in small-business relief, $600 direct payments to Americans and funds for vaccine distribution.

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