Congress set to vote on $900 billion COVID relief bill, breaking monthslong logjam


Washington — After months of unsuccessful negotiations, the House and Senate are slated to vote Monday on a $900 billion relief measure designed to provide long-awaited assistance to Americans, small businesses and industries ailing from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as a massive spending bill that will keep federal agencies running.

Congressional leaders reached a deal on the coronavirus measure Sunday, ending the monthslong stalemate between Republicans and Democrats that delayed aid to those hardest hit by the public health crisis that devastated the U.S. economy. The $900 billion package is set to be added to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government through September.

Legislative text for the agreement has yet to be released, but Democratic leaders said the aid package will include $600 in direct payments to most Americans, $300 per week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits for the next 10 weeks and more than $284 billion in loans for businesses through the popular Paycheck Protection Program. The relief measure also extends the moratorium on evictions for one month and provides more than $30 billion to accelerate the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

The government spending deal is set to include a provision ending surprise medical billing, an issue with bipartisan support.

The $600 checks are half as generous as the $1,200 payments distributed under the CARES Act in the spring. Americans who made less than $75,000 in 2019 are eligible for the full $600, with the payments tapering off for those who made up to $100,000. Parents will also get $600 per child, an increase from the $500 given under the CARES Act.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders expressed optimism Sunday the combined measures would be approved by both chambers of Congress swiftly, though it’s unclear when votes will take place. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday called the deal a “first step” and predicted more relief will come once President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris take office in January.

The House and Senate last approved a sweeping aid package addressing the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic in March, though the two chambers then put forth their own separate measures, which failed to garner enough bipartisan backing to pass. The White House and Pelosi spent the intervening months engaged in failed negotiations over another measure, though they disagreed on the size and scope of the package.

Republicans were pushing for the next bill to include liability protections for businesses, while Democrats wanted billions of dollars in federal assistance for state and local governments that took a financial hit because of the pandemic. In the end, neither priority was included in the targeted measure agreed to by congressional leaders.

Facing the fast-approaching end-of-year expiration of several key COVID relief programs, as well as a government funding deadline, the four congressional leaders — Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — gathered last week to hammer out a deal to fund the government and provide aid to those struggling because of the pandemic. 

To avoid a lapse in government funding while the details of the packages were negotiated, Congress twice approved stopgap funding measures that gave congressional leaders more time to finalize a deal and skirt a partial government shutdown. The second continuing resolution, which extends government funding through Monday, was approved by both chambers in a rare weekend session and signed by President Trump late Sunday.

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