They are rushing to complete a deal because they must pass a new spending bill Friday night at midnight in order to avoid a government shutdown. House Democrats had sought a much larger stimulus package before the election but have softened their position since President-elect Biden’s victory in hopes of securing some immediate relief. There are numerous signs in recent weeks that the economy is flagging because of a surge in new coronavirus cases. Nearly eight million Americans fell into poverty since this summer, according to a new report, in part because emergency benefit programs expired.
The inclusion of these direct payments comes as congressional leaders appeared likely to cut new aid for states and cities out of the bill, giving lawmakers more money to work with while keeping the total cost of the package under $1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had proposed including $600 stimulus checks in the package last week, but Democrats opposed the measure then because the White House wanted to slash unemployment aid as well.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters that lawmakers were considering providing stimulus checks worth between $600 and $700 per person. He added that the package was expected to have an additional federal unemployment benefit of $300 per week, the same amount called for in the bipartisan package.
“It’s not going to be the full-blown thing that some of our members and some of their members want to see,” Thune said of the checks. He added of the broader talks: “Progress is being made. It seems like there’s movement in the right direction.”
But the addition of the stimulus checks is expected to come in part by reducing the amount of unemployment aid. Congressional leadership has told other lawmakers that they are planning on reducing the number of unemployment benefits by one month from the bipartisan plan, according to two people granted anonymity to share private remarks. That could mean that the extended benefits expire at the end of March. Such a timeline could force the incoming Biden administration to move more quickly in their effort to pass a massive stimulus bill early next year.
Asked if the package would include pare back unemployment benefits, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pointed out that the White House initially pushed for substantially lower amounts of assistance. “I’m not going to get into that kind of level of specific detail,” Schumer told reporters. “We started out with a very bad UI, or none at all, and we’re pushing it to be better.”
Schumer also expressed optimism that negotiators could reach an agreement on Wednesday and said Democrats had “pushed very hard” for direct payments.
Slashing aid for states and cities from the emerging deal would free up close to $160 billion in funds that could be used for the direct payments. Using this pool of money, lawmakers would be able to pay for stimulus…
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