Congress expected to vote on COVID relief compromise bill. Here's what we know.
After leaving Americans for months to defend themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic and waves of layoffs, congressional leaders said Sunday night they had reached an agreement on a new law to aid COVID-19.
The announcement came after days of tense negotiations between leaders of both Houses, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as both parties worked to reach an agreement alongside a funding bill to keep the government open hold. The legislation came after a proposal drafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and is a step in fulfilling the pledge made by leaders not to go into the Christmas break before a bill reaches President Trump.
Related: Six Ways Washington's Standstill On COVID-19 Is Hurting Common Americans
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While the agreement was announced on Sunday along with a summary of the democratic leadership and various provisions of the bill were reported in the media, the text had not been released on Monday morning, the day the vote was due to begin.
"We agreed on a package of nearly $ 900 billion, with targeted measures to help the warring Americans who have waited far too long," McConnell said in the Senate on Sunday. “We finally had the bipartisan breakthrough the country needed. Now we need to properly close tax avoidance or last minute obstacles and work together to get this legislation through both chambers. "
"Our goal has always been to destroy the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people, which is what we are doing in this legislation," Pelosi said at a press conference on Sunday evening.
The $ 2.2 trillion CARES bill passed in March actually reduced poverty and kept Americans afloat during the economic downturn with a combination of $ 1,200 stimulus reviews and improved federal unemployment benefits. When the direct payments were issued and expanded unemployment insurance ended, nearly 8 million Americans fell into poverty, according to a new study. The Democratic House passed the $ 3 trillion Heroes Bill in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate never picked up on it or passed its own COVID-19 relief bill.
Pelosi has defended her decision to reject a $ 1.8 trillion White House proposal in early October after calling the offer (double the current proposal) "half a loaf". The proposal also met with opposition from GOP senators.
COVID-19 has killed more than 317,000 people in the US, including a daily record of 3,600 on Wednesday. New jobless claims have spiked this month, while census data showed that one in eight Americans reported running out of food for a single week in November.
Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer listens to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a press conference on Sunday on Capitol Hill. (Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)
The bill approved by leaders added direct payments through stimulus checks to Americans, with $ 600 for every adult and child for families making less than $ 75,000 a year. Adult relatives are not eligible for the stimulus payments, but families with only one parent are eligible. The amount is less than the $ 1,200 spent earlier this year, and its inclusion comes after extensive lobbying by Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., And the Progressive Congress, below Chaired by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who insisted last week that "every COVID relief package must include survival checks and improved unemployment benefits".
According to a report on CNN, McConnell wanted to include the direct payments to help Georgian Republicans Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are campaigned “hammered” to keep their seats in the January 5 runoff.
The state vote has already started. McConnell's control of the Senate depends on Republicans retaining at least one of the seats.
"Everything in this package is badly needed," Sanders said in an MSNBC interview last week. "The problem is that it's a much smaller package than the country needs at this moment of economic desperation."
Extended unemployment benefits, which was part of the bipartisan law that came into force earlier this month, will remain in the law, but its duration will be shortened and is expected to expire in March. The amount is $ 300 per week, or half the amount in the CARES Act. Also, no retrospective payments will be made for the period between the expiry of the CARES Act this summer and the entry into force of the new plan.
The legislation also addresses a number of other expanded unemployment programs put into effect by the CARES bill, due to expire on December 26th, that would leave up to 12 million Americans with no weekly checkups without the renewal of the new legislation. A Columbia University study published last week predicted that 4.8 million more Americans would fall into poverty if programs were not extended.
The total price on the bill reflects Republicans' insistence on keeping the amount below $ 1 trillion. In a speech Friday, Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Declared the bill irresponsible in the face of the federal budget deficit that skyrocketed during the Trump administration with the passage of the Republican-backed tax cut bill in 2017. Johnson's sudden transformation into frugality led him to block a proposal to raise stimulus checks to $ 1,200.
The bill also includes an extension to the paycheck protection program, which offered small businesses (typically businesses with 500 or fewer employees) lending to help them retain workers and keep up with rent and other expenses. The program has helped some companies but has been criticized for channeling a disproportionate amount of funds to larger companies. Beneficiaries also included tenants of real estate belonging to Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner's family. Fifteen billion dollars of the new contract has been allocated to venues, live cinemas, and cultural institutions like museums.
The proposal provides for a one-month extension of the moratorium on partial federal evictions, which will expire on December 31 and will help keep millions of Americans housed at the start of the new year. Proponents of moratoria say they are especially important during a pandemic, a study published earlier this month found. While the moratoria halts evictions, rents back continue to be incurred and economists are still concerned about the budgetary impact.
"America is plagued by two coexisting crises: the spread of COVID-19 due to evictions and the eviction crisis itself," Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force Committee on Eviction and co-author of the study, told Yahoo News. “Moratoriums are an important part of any pandemic control strategy and are just as important as hand washing and self-quarantine to stop the transmission of COVID-19. But without rent relief to cover $ 25 billion to $ 35 billion in rent debt, moratoriums alone cannot end the eviction crisis and protect families from serious and devastating damage from eviction and foreclosure if rent is not paid. "
The bill also includes funding for local transit companies, education, food aid programs, payments to farmers, distribution of vaccines, increasing COVID-19 testing capacity, childcare and more access to broadband internet. After printing from the White House, the draft proposal includes a corporate meal tax break, which critics claim as a "three-martini lunch" allowance. According to a Washington Post report, the Democrats voted in favor of the addition in exchange for tax credits for low-income families.
The proposal does not include risk payment for essential workers. Two other points that were not included in the bill had been important sticking points in the negotiations for months. One of these has been state aid to state and local governments, whose revenues have plummeted during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Republicans have opposed what Senator Rick Scott, R-Fla., Described as "hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayers' money to save wasteful states."
The two sides were also unable to navigate a Republican-important plank: a liability shield that would protect companies from lawsuits if employees contracted the coronavirus. Democrats said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas’s proposal was too broad. The unions also pushed back, and the AFL-CIO sent a letter to lawmakers last week calling on them to reject "any legislation protecting civil liability", stating that they had an "enormous and dangerous loophole", which will let employers off the hook, compliance with workplace safety requirements. "
During the weekend, negotiators resolved an earlier sticking point and reached a compromise on Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Request to end a Federal Reserve emergency loan program by the end of the year.
Pelosi said it would be easier to get more relief next year after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, but the outlook is uncertain as Pelosi will command a smaller house majority and the Senate will remain in Republican hands unless the Democrats win both the Georgia drains.
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