Congress races to clinch coronavirus deal as shutdown looms

Congress races to clinch coronavirus deal as shutdown looms

Congressional leaders are racing to finalize and pass a $900 billion coronavirus relief deal ahead of a midnight deadline to prevent a government shutdown.

Leadership says it is on the precipice of a sweeping deal that would tie the long-sought relief to a $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government until Oct. 1. If lawmakers can’t pass the forthcoming agreement by the end of Sunday, something rank-and-file senators are casting doubt on, they’ll need to use a stopgap bill to keep the government open.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators reach deal on Fed powers, setting stage for coronavirus relief passage Coronavirus relief deal hinges on talks over Fed lending powers Senate GOP absences snag Trump nominees MORE (R-Ky.), entering the Capitol for the day, told reporters that they were “really, really close.” 

“We are winnowing down the remaining differences. I think I can speak for all sides when I say I expect and hope to have a final agreement nailed down in a matter of hours,” McConnell said from the floor during the rare Sunday session.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators reach deal on Fed powers, setting stage for coronavirus relief passage Sunday shows preview: US rolls out first doses of coronavirus vaccine; Congress close on stimulus deal Lawmakers expect COVID-19 relief deal soon MORE (D-Calif.) echoed that, saying, “We’re very close.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenators reach deal on Fed powers, setting stage for coronavirus relief passage Coronavirus relief deal hinges on talks over Fed lending powers Ocasio-Cortez: I’m ‘not ready’ to be Speaker but Pelosi and Schumer need to go MORE (D-N.Y.) said that “barring a major mishap” both the House and Senate could vote “as early as tonight.”

“As we speak, the legislative text is being finalized. The time has come to move forward and reach a conclusion,” he added from the Senate floor.

The progress toward a deal comes after a middle-of-the-night breakthrough on the last big sticking point: emergency lending facilities under the Federal Reserve.

The deal would close four Federal Reserve credit lending facilities created by the CARES Act and will prevent the Fed from standing up replica facilities in the future without congressional approval. The Fed will retain more flexibility over restarting the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, which will be closed but can be restarted in the future.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA’s bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) told reporters during a conference call on Sunday afternoon that lawmakers were still working to finalize the Federal Reserve language but that he intended to support the overall package.

“Despite the significant reservations I have about some particular features, I think the good outweighs the bad, and it is my intention at this point to vote for it,” he said.

Leadership aides acknowledged that the agreement with Toomey on the language moved Congress significantly closer, but there are smaller issues to iron out, and leadership needs to finalize and finish drafting the year-end agreement.

“There are a few issues outstanding, but I’m quite hopeful that we’re closing in on an outcome,” Schumer said.

Lawmakers are also pushing for language in the deal for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) tax “fix” over concerns that  businesses that received PPP loans will have to pay a larger-than-expected tax bill next year.

“Sounds to me like things aren’t completely tied up,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCoronavirus relief deal hinges on talks over Fed lending powers Senate GOP absences snag Trump nominees Congress passes bill to avert shutdown as coronavirus talks drag into weekend MORE (R-Texas) said on Sunday.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOcasio-Cortez defends Biden’s incoming deputy chief of staff amid blowback Incoming Biden deputy chief of staff says she shouldn’t have referred to lawmakers as ‘f—ers’ Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps MORE (R-Fla.) added that the PPP language was still being debated as of Saturday night but that including a legislative fix has “broad support.”

Because the coronavirus relief bill is linked to the omnibus government funding agreement, which appropriators say has been finalized for days, Congress needs to pass the deal by the end of Sunday in order to prevent a shutdown.

Congress has already had to use three continuing resolutions (CR) this year to keep the government operating: one that funded the government from Oct. 1 to Dec. 11 and a second that extended the deadline to Dec. 18. On Friday night, with negotiations ongoing, they bought themselves another 48 hours by passing a continuing resolution that funded the government until the end of Sunday.

The House is expected to vote on the coronavirus-government funding agreement before the deadline, though the vote could be held up until Sunday evening.

“Members are advised that votes are expected in the House today related to government funding and further Coronavirus relief legislation. Members are further advised that votes could occur late into the evening,” a notice from House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCongress barrels toward veto clash with Trump Congress passes bill to avert shutdown as coronavirus talks drag into weekend House passes two-day stopgap bill to avoid shutdown MORE (D-Md.) advised.

It’s unclear if the Senate will be able to vote by the midnight deadline. Because leadership is facing a time crunch, it would need cooperation from all 100 senators, with just one lawmaker able to slow down an agreement and push Congress past the deadline.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenators reach deal on Fed powers, setting stage for coronavirus relief passage Coronavirus relief deal hinges on talks over Fed lending powers Senate GOP absences snag Trump nominees MORE (R-Mo.) floated on Sunday that he might not consent to quick passage of a CR. 

“I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ll consent to one. … This plane needs to land,” Hawley said about another stopgap bill. 

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told MSNBC that Congress would need another CR if both chambers weren’t able to pass the bill on Sunday night. Cornyn, meanwhile, cast doubt that the Senate would be able to vote before Monday.

“I hear the text may not even be available until later on, and the House would have to vote on it first,” Cornyn said about the chances the Senate votes on Sunday. “So I think it’s doubtful, would be my guess.”

McConnell, asked about a Senate vote on Sunday, told reporters, “A quick vote would require a lot of cooperation. We’ll see.”

Several GOP senators floated that they expect the Senate’s vote to spill into Monday. 

“That’d be rather optimistic to try to do it by tonight,” said Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordWith Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds Ethics experts ask Senate to investigate Graham’s probe of mail-in voting The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Capital One – Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps MORE (R-Okla.), adding that a CR should be “readied.” 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) added that he didn’t think the Senate would vote on Sunday. 

“I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s enough time for us to get everything together,” he said. “We can’t vote until the House does.” 

Updated at 2:20 p.m.

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