Congress faces deadline to reach coronavirus aid deal and avoid shutdown
Lawmakers appear to be stuck on $900bn bill, which must pass by midnight Friday or US government will enter a shutdownThe US government will enter a shutdown if Congress does not pass a funding bill by Friday at midnight, and tied to it is a new coronavirus aid package, which legislators have been negotiating since the summer.Lawmakers appear to be stuck on restrictions for the Federal Reserve and funding for state and local governments, however Democrats and Republicans seem to be set on most of the bill’s major components.The bill is slated to be about $900bn and will include a new round of stimulus checks, reportedly to be about $600 maximum for households that meet a certain income threshold, and a $300 bolster to unemployment insurance. Funding for small businesses, vaccine distributions and schools are also included.Many of the key elements of the last coronavirus aid bill have since expired even while millions of Americans continue to be unemployed and the virus rages across the country, having killed over 309,000 people in the US.While lawmakers appeared hopeful earlier this week that they were quickly coming to an agreement, leaders of both parties indicated on Thursday that talks will likely go into the weekend.John Thune, the Senate majority whip, told reporters yesterday that a brief shutdown might be possible as a deadline extension might not get enough votes.“I know people are gonna object to that, that want to keep pressure on the process until we get a deal,” he said.Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said of negotiations that “many if not all difficult topics are behind us, [though] a few final issues must be hammered out”.In recent days, Republicans have been gunning for the bill to include restrictions on the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program for businesses and municipalities. Republicans say funding for the program was meant to be temporary, but Democrats are arguing that cuts to the program would hamper the Biden administration’s ability to provide aid to institutions, particularly cash-strapped state and local governments.Meanwhile, Democrats have been negotiating for money for state and local governments as Republicans show hesitancy to provide direct relief. The compromise appears to be $90bn in funds administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though lawmakers are still working out exactly how an aid program would be structured.Other issues include how long the additional unemployment insurance should last and eligibility for stimulus checks.Mark Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia, told the New York Times that “these 11th-hour issues are pretty big. They were issues that neither side, in a month plus of negotiations, ever brought up beforehand”.