WASHINGTON — After months of stalemate, Congress struck a deal on a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that includes 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 onn 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 more stimulus checks, a federal unemployment insurance bonus, more money for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers and vaccine distribution funds.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the package beginning later Sunday or Monday.
The measure is designed to be 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.
The legislation was expected to be attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill, but the clock is ticking: Congress approved a two-day extension to avert a shutdown on Friday, giving negotiators the weekend to finalize a deal or face another cliff. Lawmakers will need to pass another temporary measure if the larger bill isn’t passed by midnight.
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, led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., demanded an end to Federal Reserve authorities 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 night.
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, 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.