CONGRESS REACHES COVID DEAL… BUT NOT FOR $1,200

After months of debate and political posturing, Congress is set to act on a $900 billion pandemic relief package that would deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals as well as resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The relief package, agreed to on Sunday and expected to draw votes in Congress on Monday, would establish a temporary $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

House and Senate leaders planned votes for Monday, but the final measure was still being finalized. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

The $300-per-week bonus jobless benefit was one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the $1.8 trillion CARES Act in March and would be limited to 11 weeks instead of 16 weeks. The direct $600 stimulus payment to most people would also be half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual’s payment began to phase out after $75,000.

“There will be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in announcing the agreement for the relief bill.

“It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long,” the Kentucky Republican said.

President Donald Trump had urged lawmakers Sunday to give Americans relief in the form of direct payments.

“Why isn’t Congress giving our people a Stimulus Bill? It wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of China,” he said on Twitter. “GET IT DONE, and give them more money in direct payments.”

Democrats had pushed for a much more expensive relief package, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed more is to come once Joe Biden, the presumptive winner of the November presidential election, takes office next month.

“It is a first step,” the California Democrat said. “We have to do more.”

Republican politicians, including the president, cited debt concerns in pushing against Democratic demands. They focused more on reopening the economy and less on taxpayer-financed steps such as supplemental jobless benefits.

Biden praised the bipartisan spirit that produced the measure, which he called “just the beginning.” “This is a model for the challenging work ahead for our nation,” he said Sunday in a statement.

A fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers was resolved Saturday night by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That breakthrough led to a final round of negotiations Sunday.

Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement that the $900 billion bill includes $82 billion for local schools, colleges and universities, $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theaters and other live venues, and $10 billion for child care.

Delays in finalizing the agreement prompted Congress to pass a one-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight Sunday.

The final agreement would be the largest spending measure yet, combining $900 billion for COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.

Talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

“This bill is a good bill. Tonight is a good night. But it is not the end of the story, it is not the end of the job,” Schumer told reporters. “Anyone who thinks this bill is enough does not know what’s going on in America.”

Progress came after a bipartisan group of about a dozen lawmakers devised a $908 billion plan that built a middle-ground position that the top four leaders of Congress — the GOP and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate — used as the basis for their talks. The lawmakers urged leaders on both sides to back off of hard-line positions.

“We put our heads down and worked around the clock for nearly a month to produce a bipartisan, bicameral bill to address the emergency needs of our country,” the bipartisan group said in a statement. “Our consensus bill was the foundation of this final package.”

Republicans were most intent on reviving the Paycheck Protection Program with $284 billion, which would cover a second round of PPP grants to especially hard-hit businesses. Democrats won set-asides for low-income and minority communities.

The governmentwide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion installment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.

The bill was an engine to carry much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished business, including an almost 400-page water resources bill that targets $10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects.

Another addition would extend a batch of soon-to-expire tax breaks, including one for craft brewers, wineries and distillers.

It also would carry numerous clean energy provisions, $7 billion to increase access to broadband, $4 billion to help other nations vaccinate their people, $14 billion for cash-starved transit systems, Amtrak and airports.

Democrats failed in a months-long battle to deliver direct fiscal relief to states and local governments, but they successfully pressed for $22 billion would help states and local governments with COVID-19-related health expenses such as testing and vaccines.