Congressional leaders vowed they would soon complete negotiations on a $900bn fiscal stimulus deal to bolster the US economy, although talks could stretch into the weekend to resolve the last sticking points.
“While many, if not all, of the difficult topics are behind us, a few final issues must be hammered out,” Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said on Thursday. “We are very close to an agreement, but the details really matter.”
Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress had been hoping to reach a compromise by Friday night, when funding for government operations is due to expire. But they said they might have to extend the deadline by a few days in order to allow more time for negotiations.
“We are going to stay right here until we are finished, even if that means working into or through the weekend,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said. “Our citizens can’t afford for us to get bogged down in the back-and-forth. Let’s finish up our bipartisan framework. Let’s make law as soon as possible.”
The agreement being discussed would be the largest economic relief package in US history after the $2.2tn Cares Act, which was passed in late March during the early stage of the pandemic in the US. It would exceed the $787bn price tag of the stimulus plan enacted by Barack Obama in 2009, after he took office in the midst of the financial crisis.
The need for additional stimulus has become more acute in the wake of the recent surge in coronavirus infections. There have also been some glaring warning signs for the US recovery, including weakness in retail sales and rising unemployment claims.
Expressing hope that a deal would be reached soon, Jay Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said on Wednesday: “The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong, and I think that is widely understood.”
Democrats had for months pushed Republicans to embrace large-scale fiscal stimulus, without any success, and were eventually forced to lower their aspirations for the deal after a series of fraught and erratic negotiations.
The package that is being discussed was developed by a group of centrist bipartisan senators, and includes about $300bn for small businesses, as well as an extension of federal unemployment benefits and a new round of direct payments for adults and children. Those payments were added in the final stretch of the talks to avoid a backlash from progressive Democrats and even some Republicans.
The last-minute haggling involves the final terms of both the jobless benefits and the direct-payment cheques, as well as the inclusion of disaster relief aid for the benefit of cities and states and a special pot of money for independent entertainment venues.
Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, has also been pushing for restrictions on the Fed’s ability to revive its emergency lending programmes after they lapse at the end of the year, which Democrats dislike because it could tie the hands of the incoming Biden administration.
“I think we have very, very broad agreement among Republican senators that this is the right approach, and [Treasury] secretary [Steven] Mnuchin shares that view,” Mr Toomey told reporters on Thursday.
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