US Congress closes $ 900 billion Covid aid bill as deadline approaches Friday | US News

Lawmakers and aides said that negotiators in the US Congress on Wednesday were “close” to the $ 900 billion Covid-19 aid bill that would include $ 600 to $ 700 in stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, with the deadline approaching Friday.

Senior members of the Democratic Party that controls it Parliament The Republican-controlled Senate appeared more positive than it has been in months in a fresh response to a crisis that has killed more than 304,000 Americans and thrown millions of work.

For months, Republicans had been seeking a stimulus package at a much lower price than the Democrats wanted. The two sides seem to have reached common ground on $ 908 billion Relief package Less than $ 1 trillion from the first stimulus package.

On Wednesday, their aides were struggling to craft legislative language as rates of Covid-19 infection soared to new highs, even as the United States began vaccinating people. The US economy is showing signs of weakness.

A source familiar with the talks said negotiators were looking for a way to shift the approach to helping hard-hit state and local governments, which was a key Democratic priority but was opposed by Republicans. The measure, which will be attached to the spending bill that must pass by Friday to avoid a government shutdown, is not expected to include new protections for companies from lawsuits related to the pandemic, something that is high on the Republican agenda.

Senator Dick Durbin, the second Democrat in the chamber, said the goal was to reach an agreement on Wednesday and prepare it for a vote starting Thursday.

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was optimistic.

McConnell said in the Senate: “We have made significant progress toward drafting a targeted relief package from the pandemic.” “We need money to distribute vaccines, we need to revitalize the Paycheck Protection program to save jobs, and we have to continue to support laid-off Americans.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is the federal loan and grant grant program for small businesses struggling with an epidemic.

But House Democrat Leader Steny Hoyer said that if the Friday midnight deadline for approval of the spending is not met, he can envision another temporary spending bill for three or four days to keep government agencies open while negotiations continue.

Senator John Thun, the Republican No. 2 member of the Senate, said the proposed direct payments to individuals would be around $ 600 to $ 700 per person.

Some of the steps that Congress could take to help local authorities include filing a one-year extension for unused funds provided under the Welfare Act, a Covid-19 relief bill passed in March, said Mark Ritko, director of government affairs for the National Association of Provinces.

His organization also hopes that Congress will expand the number of provinces that can receive assistance to include smaller counties, especially as they must administer the new vaccines. He suggested that the federal government replenish more domestic Covid-19 relief costs that have already been partially reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), such as personal protective equipment for schools and other government buildings.

But some Republicans worry that paying more is a roundabout way of providing more state and local government aid.

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“If it’s just a way to hide money for state and local governments, then we’re going to face a lot of opposition,” Thon said.

The negotiations come at a pivotal moment for the US economy, which is clearly weakening after the initial recovery from the recession caused by the pandemic earlier this year. Consumer spending, which rebounded over the summer and early fall with more than $ 3 trillion in federal aid, has reached a stalemate as new lockdowns restrict business activity and keep people at home.

Joe Biden said the stimulus package was encouraging, but more aid would be needed.

“It looks like it’s very, very close, and it looks like there will be direct cash payments, but it’s a down payment – an important down payment – for what needs to be done starting at the end of January, in February,” the president-elect told reporters.

Commerce Department data showed that retail sales tumbled unexpectedly in November, as consumer spending on goods and services showed softer across the board.

The Federal Reserve pledged on Wednesday to continue pumping money into financial markets in the future to fight the recession, even as policymakers’ outlook for the next year improves after the first coronavirus vaccine rolls out.

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