Stimulus, unemployment hang in balance amid relief talks

Stimulus, unemployment hang in balance amid relief talks

WASHINGTON — Negotiations are grinding forward on Capitol Hill ahead of a Friday deadline to pass COVID-19 relief legislation — but it remains unclear what’s likely to pass.

The talks will determine if Congress authorizes another round of stimulus checks, and if millions of people get bolstered unemployment insurance or lose benefits Dec. 26.

Also in the balance is another round of forgivable small business loans, a Democratic push to bail out state and local governments and a Republican effort to pass liability protections for businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke Sunday afternoon as they seek to narrow the differences after months of fruitless talks.

In the latest development, a bipartisan group of lawmakers — whose $908 billion proposal was recently embraced by Democratic leaders — is proposing splitting the bill into non-controversial and controversial portions.

Democrats led by Pelosi held up a package for six months in a bid to force a grand deal including more controversial elements, and the idea to split a measure into multiple smaller deals is likely to be resisted.

Congress passed and President Trump signed on Friday a one-week government funding bill to extend the coronavirus relief talks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) support a new round of $600 stimulus checks, and the White House reportedly floated having the checks replace a proposed $300 weekly unemployment insurance supplement.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Socialist who caucuses with Democrats, and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri threatened last week to keep Congress in session through Christmas to force their colleagues to pass another round of direct checks.

The direct checks likely would be means tested, as they were in March, with individuals who earn higher wages getting less money and people earning more than $95,000 getting nothing.

An estimated 12 million people face loss of unemployment benefits Dec. 26 as state officials again order businesses to close with rising infection and hospitalization rates.

Democratic leaders endorsed the $908 billion bipartisan proposal after dropping months-long insistence on a deal costing between $2.4 trillion and $3.4 trillion, including up to $1 trillion for state and local governments.

The $908 billion proposal, which remains the most broadly supported package, would partially revive at $300 per week a federal unemployment supplement, down from $600 a week before it expired, and would add $288 billion in new small-business Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans.

The bipartisan plan also calls for $45 billion for airlines and struggling mass transit systems, $160 billion for state and local governments and $16 billion for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution. It has $82 billion for schools, $10 billion for the US Postal Service and $5 billion for opioid addiction treatment.


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