US lawmakers were rushing to reach an agreement on a $900bn economic relief package before a midnight deadline on Sunday after striking a deal over Republican demands to curb the Federal Reserve’s crisis lending powers.
Republicans and Democrats hashed out a bipartisan compromise late Saturday after Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, sought to insert language into the legislation that would prevent the Fed from reviving emergency credit facilities due to expire at the end of the year.
Lawmakers from both parties had said the issue was a stumbling block to finalising a massive stimulus package that would be one of the largest economic relief bills in US history, second only to the $2.2tn Cares Act in March of this year.
But there were several issues still outstanding on Sunday afternoon, leaving lawmakers with just hours left to reach a sweeping deal ahead of a midnight deadline.
The stimulus package is expected to include means-tested payments of up to $600 for US adults, extra unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs, more than $200bn in additional relief for small businesses, and an increase in federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.
Senators warned that if a full agreement was not approved by both houses of Congress before the end of the day, lawmakers would need to pass another “continuing resolution” to avert a government shutdown. A similar measure was passed late Friday when it became clear Congress would miss the previous deadline.
“We are winnowing down the remaining differences. I believe I can speak for all sides when I say that I hope and expect to have a final agreement nailed down in a matter of hours,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said on the Senate floor on Sunday afternoon.
“At this point, we are down to the last few differences that stand between struggling Americans and the major rescue package they need and deserve,” he added. “These days and nights of negotiations have been encouraging. But our citizens need this waiting game to be over.”
Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said while there remained a “few issues outstanding” he was “quite hopeful” that lawmakers were “closing in” on a deal.
“It appears that barring a major mishap, the Senate and House will be able to vote on final legislation as early as tonight,” he added.
Any deal would need to be approved by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-held Senate before being sent to the White House for Donald Trump’s signature.
Mr Schumer said any deal reached before the end of the year would “not be the final word on congressional Covid-relief”. Joe Biden, the Democratic president-elect, has said passing additional economic stimulus would be a top priority for his administration.
“When this chamber gavels back in 2021, we must pick up immediately where we left off,” Mr Schumer said.
Senators from both parties, however, cautioned that they had yet to see the text of any agreement, which was likely to span hundreds of pages and take hours to review. The House will need to approve any deal before it heads to the Senate for sign-off, leading many senators to predict that a vote in the upper chamber was more likely to happen on Monday, at the earliest.