U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, enters his Senate office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on December 18, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Congress dangerously neared the government shutdown as lawmakers failed to put the finishing touches on Friday on a massive spending and coronavirus bailout package.
Before midnight Friday to pass a spending bill, the House put in place a two-day emergency bill to keep the government going. Legislators gave themselves roughly seven and a half hours to get it through both houses of Congress, including a Senate where a member's objection can block its swift passage.
Heads of state and government on Capitol Hill have said for days that they are close to reaching an agreement on a $ 900 billion aid proposal that would cost $ 1.4 trillion in spending. However, some new disputes have prevented Washington from sending new aid to warring Americans for the first time in nearly nine months.
On Friday afternoon, it seemed like a challenge to reach an agreement on a huge spending and pandemic relief plan, let alone keep government spending from deteriorating. While bipartisan House officials, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Endorsed the temporary funding bill, the Senate will pose bigger problems.
Passing a temporary spending measure known as a rolling resolution "could prove quite difficult," Senate Republican No. 2 Republican John Thune of South Dakota told reporters Friday. To quickly approve the move, the Senate would need the support of every Senator. A handful of lawmakers have proposed halting the passage of a short-term spending bill.
Thune also signaled it could take days to iron out a definitive coronavirus relief package as millions of Americans await help.
"It comes together, it just takes time, but it's slower," he said. "And you know, I think we have to assume that even if a deal is announced, we will work through the weekend if it is written and edited."
Shortly after 2 p.m. ET on Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Said the Chamber would be on hiatus until 5 p.m. while the leaders of Congress seek to get a "clearer picture" of how to move forward. He urged representatives to keep Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday free.
If the legislature can approve an expenditure calculation before Monday, the damage would be limited by a failure of federal funding.
The leaders of Congress have pledged to work through the weekend and pass a bill before heading home for the vacation. The health and livelihood of millions of Americans depend on Congress sending more aid before the end of the year.
Just hours earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. described an agreement as imminent.
"The talks remain productive," said McConnell on Friday morning. "In fact, I am even more optimistic than last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is very close."
With healthcare workers receiving Covid-19 vaccinations during a crushing wave of infections across the country, federal funding is required for further distribution of the shots. The outbreak has killed more than 310,000 people nationwide as the US struggles to contain its spread.
Meanwhile, 12 million people will lose unemployment insurance the day after Christmas if Congress doesn't extend the pandemic-time provisions that expanded benefits. If a federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of the month, millions are at risk of losing their homes.
While the developing $ 900 billion relief plan is set to expand these unemployment benefits, it is currently unclear how it will address evacuation protection and any assistance to those who owe rent.
The proposal is expected to reintroduce a federal unemployment insurance surcharge of $ 300 per week. A federal payment of $ 600 per week introduced in March expired in the summer, dropping millions in revenue.
The package would include direct payments of $ 600, although it's unclear who is eligible to receive them. Families are expected to receive $ 600 for children as well. Progressives in Congress and some Republicans have labeled the sum too low for people to come by during the pandemic and found that lawmakers easily approved a direct payment of $ 1,200 in March.
White House advisors have stopped President Donald Trump from sending last-minute checks for up to $ 2,000 to Americans, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Attempted to approve a measure that would allow another direct payment of $ 1,200 on Friday. He called the cash injection "the least we can do for working families".
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., Then declined to pass the measure on government debt concerns, arguing that tax cuts and deregulation would better serve Americans who are out of work during the pandemic. It is unclear how these measures would help people afford food and housing now.
The exchange highlighted the challenges Congress will face in the coming days in both preventing a shutdown and passing a bailout package. Johnson even called the $ 900 billion package, which contains only $ 600 checks, "way too big".
Hawley said he would block a short-term government funding bill unless he saw a final aid proposal that included direct payments.
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Attempted to pass a proposal that would send $ 1,200 in direct payments later Friday afternoon. The Senator, backed by Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Said, "In this time of crisis, it's funny that our Republican friends are finding again that we are in deficit."
Johnson disagreed again.
The Congressional relief plan would include at least $ 300 billion in support for small businesses. It would also provide funding for the distribution and testing of Covid-19 vaccines and provide relief to hospitals.
The proposal would put money in schools and the transport sector.
A handful of problems sparked the final phase of negotiations. This includes a Federal Emergency Management Agency relief fund for states and restrictions. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Plans to strengthen the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers during the pandemic, according to NBC News.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Said Republicans who support the provision "sabotage" President-elect Joe Biden's ability to lead an economic recovery after taking office on Jan. 20.
"Proposals to sabotage President Biden and our nation's economy are ruthless, false and have no place in this legislation," she said in a statement.
In a later statement, the Chairs of House Financial Services and the Ways and Means Committee said an agreement was "in sight" before the GOP pushed for an "unacceptable provision".
"The extreme Senate Republican call threatens to derail this much-needed move and it must be abandoned immediately so we can move forward," said MPs Maxine Waters, D-Calif., And Richard Neal, D-Mass Statement.
A Toomey spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC's request to comment on Democratic criticism.
Congress passed the $ 2 trillion CARES bill in late March, which provides solid economic support in the early stages of the pandemic. But lawmakers offered no new help in the months that followed, despite the raging virus, falling by the wayside financial lifelines and cracking the economic recovery.
Democrats have pushed for far more relief. Biden has called the $ 900 billion plan a "down payment" and has signaled that he will attempt to approve further aid after he takes office on Jan. 20.
McConnell pushed for new spending of only about $ 500 billion for months. Many in his party resisted putting so much money into a relief plan.
Next year, Democrats are likely to push for new aid to state and local governments who may have to lay off first responders when faced with budget crises. The GOP did not agree to send the relief without corporate liability coverage.
The leaders of Congress agreed to set both issues aside in negotiating the year-end package.
– CNBC's Kayla Tausche contributed to this report
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