Second stimulus checks: Breakthrough clears the way to meet $ 600 payments

(NEXSTAR / AP) – “We’re getting very close, very close,” said minority leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., as he left the Capitol on Saturday night.

Top congressional lawmakers reached an overnight deal on the latest major hurdle to a nearly $ 1 trillion COVID-19 financial aid package, clearing the way for voting from Sunday.

The breakthrough involved a fight over the emergency powers of the Federal Reserve and was settled by the top Senate Democrat and a senior conservative Republican.

Congressional aides confirmed the deal Saturday night, paving the way for an expected settlement Sunday on the aid bill. The measure is finally about to pass amid an alarming spike in cases and deaths and the accumulation of evidence that the economy is battling the pandemic.

Schumer spent much of the day going back and forth with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey had been pushing a provision to shut down the Fed’s credit facilities. Democrats and the White House said it was drafted too broadly and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration.

The compromise, attendees said, preserved Toomey’s goal but retained the Fed’s existing powers to restart similar facilities in the future.

The COVID-19 legislation has been delayed after months of dysfunction, posturing, and bad faith. But the talks turned serious last week when lawmakers on both sides finally faced a deadline to act before leaving Washington for Christmas.

The relief bill, lawmakers and aides say, would establish temporary supplemental unemployment benefits of $ 300 per week and direct stimulus payments of $ 600 for most Americans. It would provide a new round of subsidies for the hardest hit businesses and money for schools, healthcare providers and tenants facing eviction.

If it is finalized, the wheels will be launched so that the Internal Revenue Service begins to issue the Economic Impact Payments.

It’s unclear when the checks will clear at this time, but in August, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said payments could be issued as soon as a week after congressional approval.

“I can get 50 million payments very quickly, a lot if they go into people’s direct accounts.” Mnuchin said at the time, according to NewsNation reports.

The measure will be added to a $ 1.4 trillion spending bill and many other unfinished work, including previously stalled legislation to extend tax breaks, authorize water projects and address the problem of surprise medical bills for outside procedures. of the network.

It would be virtually impossible for lawmakers to fully read and understand the measure ahead of the House vote expected Sunday night.

Schumer said he expected both the House and Senate to vote on the measure on Sunday. That would require more cooperation than the Senate can normally muster, but the deadline for the government shutdown was looming at midnight Sunday and all parties were eager to leave for the holiday.

Toomey defended his provision in a Senate speech, saying the emergency powers were designed to stabilize capital markets at the height of the pandemic this spring and would expire at the end of the month anyway. The language he had sought would prevent the Biden administration from restarting them.

Toomey has a stubborn streak and the Democrats also stood their ground, but both sides saw the need for a compromise.

The Fed’s emergency programs made loans to small and medium-sized businesses and bought state and local government bonds. Those bond purchases facilitated borrowing for those governments, at a time when their finances were under pressure from job losses and healthcare costs from the pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that those programs, along with two that bought corporate bonds, would be closed by the end of the year, prompting an initial objection from the Fed. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law Passed after the Great Recession, the Fed can only establish emergency programs with the support of the Secretary of the Treasury.

Democrats also said Toomey was trying to limit the Fed’s ability to boost the economy, just as Biden was preparing to take office.

“This is the existing authorities that the Fed has had for a long time, to be able to use in an emergency,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “This is a lending authority to help small businesses, the state government, local government in the midst of a crisis. “

Toomey questioned that, saying his proposal “is emphatically not a comprehensive review of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority.” His office released a statement early Sunday morning calling the Schumer pledge “an outright victory for taxpayers” that met Toomey’s goal of shutting down the emergency facility.

This was followed by a vote in the Senate, possibly on Monday. One more short-term funding bill would be needed to avoid the looming deadline, or the partial shutdown of nonessential agencies would begin Monday.

The emerging deal would provide more than $ 300 billion in aid to businesses, as well as the additional $ 300 a week for the unemployed and renewal of state benefits that would otherwise expire just after Christmas. It included $ 600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine distribution funds; and money for tenants, schools, the Postal Service, and people who need food assistance.

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act was passed virtually unanimously in March, providing $ 1.8 billion in aid, plus a generous $ 600 a week in additional unemployment benefits, and $ 1,200 direct payments to individuals.

The government-wide appropriations bill would fund agencies until next September. That measure is likely to provide a final $ 1.4 billion quota for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of obtaining his signature.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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