Lawmakers face a make-or-break week for stimulus negotiations with another shutdown deadline looming

Lawmakers face a make-or-break week for stimulus negotiations with another shutdown deadline looming
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office from the Senate Floor at the Capitol on December 11, 2020. Lawmakers voted to keep the government running for an extra week until December 18.Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images
  • Monday kicks off a critical week for coronavirus relief talks in Congress.
  • Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to strike a deal on coronavirus relief, working alongside the deadline to pass a spending bill to fund the government through October 2021.
  • The bipartisan $908 billion economic rescue plan may be introduced on Monday.

Congress faces a crucial week ahead as it attempts to break the months-long stalemate on an economic aid package as virus cases continue to rise and hospitalizations in the US reach new highs.

Congress bought itself an additional week of negotiations when President Donald Trump signed a spending bill into law which funds the government at existing levels until midnight Friday.

The Democratic-led House and GOP-controlled Senate have until then to strike an elusive agreement on a federal rescue package and bind it to a broader spending bill, or pass another short-term spending plan to keep the government open while they hammer out the details on the relief plan. Many federal agencies would begin shutting down absent a funding agreement.
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Bipartisan talks are ongoing on a $908 billion economic relief plan that would pump cash to unemployed Americans, hospitals, small businesses, and schools at a perilous moment in the pandemic.

Congress is running up against critical deadlines for federal aid programs set to expire later this month. Up to 12 million people could lose all jobless aid if certain federal measures are not renewed. Millions of Americans also face the threat of eviction if a moratorium is not extended.

There are early signs lawmakers may have a thorny path ahead. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri warned last week they could delay the passage of another short-term spending bill unless their plan to send Americans another $1,200 direct payments was brought to a vote.
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"If I have anything to say about it - and I guess I do - we're not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we make sure that we provide for millions of suffering families," Sanders said on the Senate floor on Friday.

The bipartisan measure omitted a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans. Under the current Senate rules for "unanimous consent" which speeds up the passage of legislation, any lawmaker has the ability to block a bill if they object to it.The main hurdles preventing the passage of a relief bill have been a liability shield for businesses and aid to state and local governments, both fiercely contested issues.
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Democrats object to the GOP-sought liability shield, arguing it could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of workers. Many Republicans are against federal aid to states and municipalities, deriding it as a "blue-state bailout."

The bipartisan group drafting the legislative text for the economic aid plan may split their bill into two, Politico reported on Sunday. That step would break off the portion containing $160 billion for states as well as the liability shield that would shelter businesses, schools, and hospitals from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

It's expected to be introduced on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports punting both those issues until President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. But Democrats have resisted that idea, pressing instead for a multifaceted plan to confront the pandemic.
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday afternoon, according to her spokesperson Drew Hammill. She emphasized the importance of including state and local aid, and suggested that a compromise on the liability shield should not "jeopardize workers' safety."

"The Speaker believes, at a time when the virus is surging, that the need for state and local funding is even more important, especially given the states' responsibility for distributing and administering the vaccine," Hammill wrote on Twitter.

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