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Top lawmakers overcome key hurdle in coronavirus relief talks

Washington — Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill appeared to strike a deal on a contentious provision in an emerging COVID-19 relief bill late Saturday, overcoming a key hurdle in talks over a bill that could come to a vote as soon as Sunday.

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Democrats objected to a proposal by Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would wind down lending programs established by the Federal Reserve in the spring to address the economic toll of the pandemic. The disagreement threatened to derail talks over the massive $900 billion relief bill, which includes direct payments to taxpayers, expanded unemployment benefits and hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic-related aid.

The House is scheduled to gavel in at noon on Sunday, according to an advisory from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office. Hoyer told members to expect votes on a $1.4 trillion government funding measure to avoid a shutdown as well as a coronavirus relief bill. The advisory noted that votes could come “late into the evening.”

An aide to Toomey and a senior Democratic aide confirmed late Saturday that the two sides had reached an agreement on the language in Toomey’s proposal. The aide said Toomey had “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.”

“Compromise language is being finalized and, now that this obstacle has been cleared, a final agreement on an emergency relief package is significantly closer,” the Democratic aide said.

A spokesman for Toomey said the “tentative agreement” was “an unqualified victory for taxpayers” and achieved Republicans’ goal of winding down the Fed’s lending facilities established by the CARES Act in March.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the upper chamber’s top Democrat, said negotiators were getting “very, very close,” and that he believed the House and Senate would both be able to take up the bill on Sunday.

“If things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow,” Schumer told reporters before departing the Capitol late Saturday night.

Lawmakers were working through the weekend to reach a deal on government funding measure and the relief bill before the Christmas holiday, with several key programs set to expire by the end of the year. 

Alan He contributed reporting.

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