Virus Aid Includes $17 Billion for Airlines: Congress Update
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Virus Aid Includes $17 Billion for Airlines: Congress Update

Congressional leaders are still haggling over the final details of nearly $900 billion in coronavirus aid as staff members try to write the legislative language needed for House and Senate votes this week.

If the aid deal, combined with a spending bill needed to fund the government, isn’t ready to get a vote in both chambers by Friday, another stopgap measure will be needed to avert a partial government shutdown after midnight Friday.

People briefed on the negotiations say the draft of the plan includes $600 in payments for individuals, $300-per-week in supplemental unemployment insurance payments and aid for small businesses, but it omits aid to state and local governments and lawsuit liability protection. It also includes roughly $17 billion for airlines.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy continued negotiations on Wednesday, although the deal is more likely to come together by Thursday, according to a lawmaker briefed on the talks.

Other Developments:

Virus Aid Includes $17 Billion for Airlines (5:13 p.m.)

Details are trickling in on the final provisions for the massive legislative package that will include coronavirus relief and government funding through September for the rest of the fiscal year. The deal is likely to include $17 billion for airlines, according to a lawmaker familiar with the negotiation. That will help air carriers recall furloughed workers and cover payrolls through March.

The aid for the virus-battered economy probably won’t include liability protections for employers or the $160 billion that Democrats sought for state and local governments. Democrats have said the deal includes other measures to funnel money for the needs of local economies.

A Democratic request to match 100% of Federal Emergency Management Agency payouts for the pandemic has emerged as a sticking point, as Republicans are concerned the provision opens a back door to send $90 billion to states and local governments in the future.

The final package could also include a bill to prevent surprise medical billing, as well as technical corrections to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

McConnell Told GOP That Deal Could Help in Georgia (3:52 p.m.)

The relief bill may have implications for the still-unsettled fight for control of the Senate.

McConnell told GOP senators on a private call Wednesday that passage will help Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face Jan. 5 runoffs, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Democrats would gain control of the Senate if both Republicans lose. McConnell told the lawmakers that their Democratic opponents, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, have used the lack of a deal on aid, specifically on direct payments to individuals, in their camnpaign attacks.

President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on the stimulus gridlock during a visit to Georgia on Tuesday. “I need two senators from this state who want to get something done, not two senators who are just going to get in the way,” he said. -- Josh Wingrove

Vote on Relief Package Could Slip to Weekend (3:30 p.m.)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the deal for a new pandemic relief package could come together quickly enough to get a House vote on Thursday, though hammering out the details could push it a day later.

A Friday vote in the House would create a tight timeline for the Senate, and it’s possible final passage might not come until the weekend. An objection from any one senator could delay a vote. McConnell warned Republican senators on a private call that they need to be prepared for working over Saturday and Sunday to get the bill done, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Because the relief package is being tied to legislation to fund government operations, that means Congress may need to pass another stopgap to avert a partial government shutdown after midnight Friday, when the current funding runs out.

“We’ll have them on the floor by tomorrow, or by the latest Friday,” Hoyer said, adding that he wouldn’t rule out the need for another short-term funding bill to complete the work. -- Billy House

Biden Calls Aid Encouraging; FEMA Causes Hangup (12:54 p.m.)

Biden said he’s encouraged by the virus aid package taking shape on Wednesday, but he said his administration will have to do more early next year.

“The stimulus package is encouraging. Looks like they’re very, very close and it looks like there are going to be direct cash payments,” Biden said. “But it’s a down payment, important down payment on what’s going to have to be done at the end of January, the beginning of February.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has pushed for the direct payments to individuals, said reports that $600 payments will be included is “a step in the right direction,” because that would add up to $2,400 for a family of four.

A major sticking point in Wednesday’s negotiations between congressional leaders is the Democratic request to increase the federal FEMA match from 90% to 100% for Covid-19 disasters. Democrats say this would cost $1 billion and say it is the same as a bill that already passed the House with bipartisan support.

Republicans say matching 100% of Federal Emergency Management Agency payouts would end up costing $90 billion, according to how the provision is written in the Democrats’ offer. They say this is a backdoor way to get aid to state and local governments.

“If it’s just a way of disguising money to state and local governments, we’ll have a lot of opposition,” Republican Senator John Thune said.

Individual Payments Eyed at $600-$700 (11:15 a.m.)

The No. 2 Senate GOP leader said he expects the deal on pandemic relief to provide direct payments of $600 to $700 for individuals and $300-per-week in enhanced unemployment benefits.

South Dakota Senator John Thune said he also expects the package won’t include direct aid to state and local governments or liability protections for employers.

He said the goal is for the House to clear it in time for the Senate to give final passage on Friday. It would be attached to a broader spending bill to fund government operations, which needs to pass Congress by Friday to avert a shutdown. However he said it remains possible that lawmakers would have to approve another stopgap spending bill to provide more time for the legislation to be finished.

“I think both sides are sufficiently motivated given the time of the year and everything that’s at stake and trying to get virus relief out there,” Thune said. -- Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson

Virus-Relief Deal Includes Stimulus Payments (10:15 a.m.)

Top leaders from the House and Senate are closing in on an agreement worth less than $900 billion, which would include a new round of stimulus payments to individuals and enhanced federal unemployment benefits, according four people familiar with the negotiations.

While the deal won’t have the $160 billion specifically for local governments, it will include and other avenues to deliver aid to states, localities, territories and tribes. The leaders have discussed $100 billion for schools and universities, for example, and additional funds for vaccine distribution, the people said.

Two of the people said the agreement is not expected to include liability protections for companies from virus-related lawsuits.

McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, said he and other leaders “made major headway for hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package” that can pass both chambers. He said they agreed that they “will not leave town until we’ve made law.”

Asked if the package including virus relief and government spending bills will be completed and passed by Friday, when federal funding runs out, McConnell said: “We’re making good progress.” --Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan

Leaders Close In on Less Than $900 Billion Deal (8:55 a.m.)

Top leaders from both parties in Congress are near a deal for Covid relief of less than $900 billion, including direct stimulus payments but leaving out state and local aid, according to two people familiar with negotiations.

Democrats originally asked for nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments to make up for revenue losses during the pandemic lockdowns. More recently, they had pushed for $160 billion in aid, but McConnell tied that provision to a liability shield for companies, which Democrats rejected.

A deal today could allow votes as soon as tonight on a bill combining the aid package with the $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government past Friday.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had said he would hold up the spending package unless the attached virus-relief deal has direct payments to individuals. The final deal could include this stimulus provision, but less than the $1,200 per person that Sanders requested. -- Erik Wasson

Leaders Plan to Resume Stimulus Talks Wednesday (7:37 a.m.)

Leaving the U.S. Capitol near midnight, Pelosi told reporters that the four top congressional leaders plan to resume their talks on the stimulus package early Wednesday.

“We’ll be back early,” she said. “And we’ll be on schedule to get the job done.”

McConnell, McCarthy, Schumer and Pelosi appear to be closer than ever before to breaking the months-long stalemate over a Covid relief package. -- Erik Wasson

Leaders Cite Progress in Talks But No Deal Yet (2:00 a.m.)

Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell and McCarthy held two rounds of extended negotiations at the Capitol on Tuesday, trying to reach agreement for a package of aid for businesses and workers struggling through the pandemic’s economic fallout.

“We’re making significant progress and I’m optimistic that we’re gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” McConnell said as he left the Capitol late Tuesday night. “Everybody wants to get a final agreement as soon as possible.”

Schumer also said the exchanges had brought progress and that all four negotiators have “a genuine desire to come to an agreement.”

The four leaders have been trying to finalize coronavirus aid to attach to the spending bills before funding for federal agencies runs out on Friday at midnight. Both sides have vowed that Congress won’t recess for the holidays without getting both done.

There is broad agreement on the package that would include vaccine funding, aid to small businesses, expanded unemployment benefits and assistance for education, among other provisions.

There’s still no word whether Pelosi and Schumer have accepted the principle of setting aside the two most contentious issues in the Covid-19 relief proposal -- aid for state and local authorities that Democrats want and a Covid-19 related liability shield that Republicans are seeking. McConnell has suggested leaving those for the next round of stimulus talks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. -- Erik Wasson

Coming up:

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are expected to unveil a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that wraps together the 12 annual appropriations measures that provide U.S. agencies with their operating budgets through end of fiscal 2021 on Sept. 30. The legislation must be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law this week to avert a Saturday government shutdown.

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