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Congress unveils massive $900B COVID government spending bill after months of negotiations

Megan Henney
·3 min read

Congressional leaders on Monday unveiled a mammoth agreement on a roughly $2.4 trillion spending package that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief after a half-year of stalemate, securing another tranche of aid as a surge in COVID-19 infections threatens to further derail the nation's faltering economy.

The House is expected to move swiftly to pass the bill on Monday night. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged that lawmakers won't leave the Capitol until the bill is passed, giving lawmakers and their offices just a few hours to review the massive 5,593-page bill.

If Congress fails to pass the bill or another temporary spending measure, a government shutdown would begin at midnight.

Senate leaders announced the 11th-hour deal Sunday evening after days of frenzied in-person negotiations on Capitol Hill between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The measure includes about $325 billion in small business relief, including $284 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program; an extension of boosted federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week through March 14, 2021 and a second $600 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000.

On top of that, it allocates billions in funding for transportation -- including the nation's beleaguered airline industry -- education, health care and vaccine distribution.

The legislation addresses dozens of other issues: It includes $25 billion in rental assistance for millions of families struggling to stay in their homes during the pandemic and extends an eviction moratorium that was poised to sunset at the end of the year through Jan. 31, 2021.

The legislation notably excludes two of the thorniest issues, which have plagued negotiations for months: funding for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits.

12 MILLION AMERICANS FACE LOSS OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

Both chambers are expected to approve the measure, which will keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year, and send it to President Trump's desk for his approval.

Democratic leaders, however, made it clear they viewed the package as a critical first step in boosting the economy's recovery from the pandemic.

"We will need to do more," Pelosi said Monday morning while speaking in the House floor.

The rebound has sputtered in recent weeks amid a surge in COVID-19 infections nationwide and new state and local government lockdown measures. Economists warned that without another aid package, the economy faced a so-called "double-dip" recession.

Job growth is slowing — the economy created just 245,000 new jobs in November, the smallest amount since the recovery began, according to the Labor Department — state and local governments are implementing new lockdown measures, more Americans are filing for unemployment aid each week, retail sales in November shrank for the first time in six months and key lifelines that propped up the economy in the early days of the pandemic are poised to expire at the end of the year.

That includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program created to provide jobless benefits to gig workers and others typically not eligible for benefits, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends state unemployment benefits an extra 13 weeks.

The $900 billion compromise bill will extend those programs through the spring; had it not, some 12 million Americans could have been left without an income the day after Christmas, according to one estimate from the Century Foundation.

"The stimulus deal is a step in the right direction and significantly lowers the odds of a recession in the first quarter," said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial. "Still, massive shutdowns in Europe are a harsh reminder we aren't out of the woods yet."

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This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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