Coronavirus relief talks could drag into weekend as Congress scrambles to strike deal

Stimulus will probably include $600 per person, unemployment boosts: Rep. Brad Wenstrup

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, discusses what the stimulus package will most likely include and making vaccinations mandatory.

Negotiations over another coronavirus relief package are poised to spill into the weekend as congressional leaders scramble to overcome last-minute policy disagreements and reach a bipartisan deal on roughly $900 billion in emergency aid.

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Although congressional leaders are inching closer toward an agreement after months of stalemate, there remain some outstanding issues, such as how to structure a second stimulus check and whether to install controls on the powers of the Federal Reserve. There are also disagreements over whether Federal Emergency Management Agency funds can be used for state and local government assistance, which was a top priority for Democrats.

Lawmakers were trying to resolve these issues and pass bills in both chambers by Friday night in order to use a must-pass spending bill as a vehicle for COVID relief efforts. Now, Congress may be forced to pass another stopgap measure to avoid a partial government shutdown on Friday at midnight and give itself more time to negotiate a stimulus bill — a possibility that lawmakers have not ruled out.

CORONAVIRUS RELIEF DEAL TO BOOST WEEKLY JOBLESS AID BY $300 BUT WON'T INCLUDE STIMULUS CHECK

"We're going to stay right here until we are finished, even if that means working through the weekend, which is highly likely," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday on the Senate floor. "And if we need to further extend the Friday funding deadline before final legislation can pass in both chambers, I hope we will extend it for a very, very short window of time."

If there is not a deal in place by Friday, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, warned that some GOP lawmakers may block a temporary funding bill, triggering a partial weekend shutdown in order to keep the pressure on legislators.

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"I know people who are gonna object to that, that want to keep pressure on the process until we get a deal," Thune said Thursday. "So, it would take consent obviously to do a short-term CR [continuing resolution]."

Still, despite some lingering dispute, the top four leaders have sounded more optimistic about the prospects of a deal than they have in months, although they've remained quiet about when they think it will happen.

The $900 billion measure under discussion is expected to include a second $600 stimulus check, boosted unemployment benefits at $300 a week, additional funding for small businesses and another round of aid for the nation's beleaguered airline industry. The drafted proposal excludes two of the thorniest issues: funding for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The race for a deal comes amid signs that the U.S. economy is deteriorating again amid a surge in COVID-19 infections nationwide and new government-mandated lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus. The number of Americans filing for unemployment aid is growing; retail sales fell more than expected in November as spending slowed, despite the holiday season and safety nets put in place earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act are set to expire.

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If the $900 billion deal passes, it would be the first significant legislative response by the federal government to the pandemic since Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March, which boosted jobless aid by $600 through the end of July and sent a one-time payment of up to $1,200 to Americans earning less than $99,000.

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