'Pre-Christmas cliff-hanger': McConnell says Congress will keep working through the weekend to pass a stimulus deal

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'Pre-Christmas cliff-hanger': McConnell says Congress will keep working through the weekend to pass a stimulus deal
Alex Wong/Getty Images; Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
  • Stimulus negotiations continue to drag on as lawmakers approach a critical deadline.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was "highly likely" senators would be working into the weekend.
  • Chuck Schumer, the senate minority leader, said an agreement was near, but some hang-ups remain in the finer details, including a pot of federal money for states and the size of Federal Reserve lending programs.

Republicans and Democrats are rushing to finalize a roughly $900 billion emergency government relief package. But several sticking points remain, causing negotiations and passage of the emergency legislation to slip into the weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened his floor remarks on Thursday by saying Congress in no stranger "to December funding deadlines or the occasional pre-Christmas cliff-hanger." The Kentucky Republican suggested that it was likely the chamber would stay in session at least through Saturday.

"For the information of all senators, we are going to stay right here until we are finished, even if that means working into or through the weekend, which is highly likely," he said. "And if we need to further extend the Friday funding deadline before final legislation can pass in both chambers, I hope we only extend it for a very, very short window of time."

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A similar attitude was reflected in Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's remarks on the Senate floor. The New York senator said, "We are very close to an agreement.

"None of the remaining hurdles cannot be overcome. Everyone is committed to achieving a result. And we will not leave until we get the job done."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters: "We made some progress this morning, and we're waiting to hear back." She declined to say whether a deal would be reached on Thursday.

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Congress is scrambling to strike a deal on a federal rescue package that's expected to funnel cash to people, businesses, and public-health agencies, among other recipients. It is likely to contain $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits, as well as $600 stimulus payments for Americans.

But lawmakers face a midnight deadline on Friday to pass a short-term spending bill to keep many federal agencies funded, or major parts of the government will start shutting down.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that passage of a short-term spending measure was a possibility.

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"You've got to contemplate another CR," the Alabama Republican said, referring to a continuing resolution to fund the government for a brief amount of time. He added, "I think it'd be short."

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the chamber, said he hoped a continuing resolution would not stretch on beyond "24 or 48 hours."

Other Republicans expressed support for negotiations to stretch into the weekend if it became necessary. In a brief interview on Capitol Hill, Sen. Mitt Romney told Business Insider negotiators appeared to still be hammering out the finer details of the relief plan.

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"We've put out a proposal which is being used as a basis for the discussions," he said, referring to a $748 billion compromise package. "But there are obviously a number of fine points that are being further discussed, and if that takes more time, give it more time."

Hang-ups include stimulus checks, aid to states, and Federal Reserve lending

The Washington Post reported that Republicans were seeking to curb the emergency lending powers of the Federal Reserve, which manages many economic relief programs alongside the Treasury Department. Democrats have said the move would stymie the ability of President-elect Joe Biden to pull the economy out of the pandemic downturn.

Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing to include a $90 billion pot of money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which it then could distribute to states and cities, The Post reported. But Republicans oppose federal aid to state and municipal governments, and the talks remain highly uncertain.

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Another hang-up appeared to be $600 stimulus checks, which would be half the federal payments distributed to millions of Americans in March and April through an earlier economic aid package.

Thune suggested both parties were still haggling over the structure of the direct payments on Thursday. He added that he wanted to see income benchmarks and whether lawmakers could narrow the number of people benefiting from the check "to those who need it most."

"I know there's been a lot of discussion about how to further restrict who gets it so it really helps the people who need it the most and, and that would be one way of driving that score down," Thune told Capitol Hill reporters. "So I think those are all things that are being finessed right now."

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Some Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon erupted in criticism on Wednesday over including the checks at the apparent expense of funding for enhanced unemployment insurance. Republicans are seeking to keep the price tag below $1 trillion as they've grown alarmed about excessive federal spending and the national debt.

Congress is running up against more deadlines that could have more dire implications for many Americans if it fails to strike a deal soon. Nearly 13 million people are threatened with the loss of unemployment aid within two weeks if certain federal programs are not renewed.

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