U.S. Congress Reaches COVID-19 Aid Deal, Schedules Votes For Monday

WASHINGTON, Dec.20 (Reuters) – U.S. Congressional leaders on Sunday reached agreement on a $ 900 billion plan to provide the first new aid in months to an economy and people affected by the outbreak of the pandemic coronavirus, with votes likely on Monday.

The package is said to be the second biggest economic stimulus in U.S. history, after a $ 2.3 trillion aid bill passed in March. It comes as the pandemic accelerates, infecting more than 214,000 people across the country every day. More than 317,000 Americans have already died.

“Finally, we have the bipartisan breakthrough the country needs,” Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the Senate after months of controversial debate.

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Republican and Democratic leaders said the package should have enough support to pass both houses of Congress.

President Donald Trump is backing the bill and will sign it, White House spokesman Ben Williamson said.

The package would give $ 600 in direct payments to individuals and increase unemployment benefits by $ 300 per week. It also includes billions for small businesses, food aid, vaccine distribution, transit and health care. It extends a moratorium on foreclosures and provides $ 25 billion in rent assistance. Read more

“Anyone who thinks this bill is enough doesn’t know what’s going on in America,” Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference. He said he would push for more help after Democratic President-elect Joe Biden took office on January 20.

Lawmakers said they resolved disputes over the Federal Reserve’s pandemic lending authority and other issues that forced negotiations to continue over the weekend.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives will likely vote on the package on Monday, with the Republican-controlled Senate following, according to Democratic House Leader Steny Hoyer.

The dome of the US Capitol is seen overnight in Washington, United States, December 17, 2020. REUTERS / Erin Scott

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Congress aims to include the coronavirus aid program in a $ 1.4 trillion spending bill funding government programs through September 2021.

But government funding is due to expire at midnight Sunday (0500 GMT Monday). The House voted 329-65 to extend funding until Monday, gaining more time to pass the coronavirus package and the larger government spending bill. The Senate must approve the temporary spending bill on Sunday and Trump must sign it to avoid disruption.

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The relief bill leaves out two of the most controversial elements of the negotiations: corporate legal protections from coronavirus lawsuits, which had been requested by Republicans, and substantial aid to state and local governments. advocated by the Democrats.

But the package indirectly helps state and local governments by providing billions for schools, coronavirus tests and other expenses, Schumer said.

It also includes things unrelated to the pandemic: a bipartisan provision that aims to end surprise medical billing and one that allows for flood control and other water-related projects.

The bill would allow the Federal Reserve’s emergency loan programs to expire on December 31 for businesses and state and local governments, which Republicans said was unnecessary government interference in private businesses. . But this does not prevent the creation of similar programs.

The pandemic will be the biggest crisis the new Biden administration faces, although signs of hope have emerged as the United States begins vaccinating people against the highly contagious respiratory disease.

In the 11 months since the first cases of the novel coronavirus were documented in the United States, COVID-19 has put millions of Americans out of work, with unemployment rising. Economists say growth will likely remain slow until vaccines become widely available in mid-2021. find out more (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)

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Reporting by David Lawder and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Written by Grant McCool; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Daniel Wallis and William Mallard

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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