The US Congress approved a stopgap measure to fund the government just hours before a shutdown was due to take effect on Friday night, buying time for frustratingly slow endgame negotiations on an almost $1tn coronavirus relief package.
The House passed the temporary funding bill, followed almost immediately by an approval in the Senate. Afterwards, Donald Trump signed the measure into law-.
The stopgap bill will fund the government for two more days as protracted negotiations continue over the new economic aid package. The talks remain on track, both sides said, but closing out final disagreements is proving difficult.
Lawmakers appear to be stuck on restrictions for the Federal Reserve and funding for state and local governments, though Democrats and Republicans seem to be set on most of the bill’s major components.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, projected confidence Friday about the state of negotiations over coronavirus relief.
“I’m even more optimistic now than I was last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is very close at hand,” he said in a floor speech.
McConnell said he and Democratic congressional leaders were “working around the clock” to reach an agreement.
Trump signing the stopgap spending bill gave lawmakers an additional 48 hours to finalize a coronavirus relief bill.
The bill is slated to be about $900bn and will include a new round of stimulus checks, reportedly to be about $600 maximum for households that meet a certain income threshold, and a $300 bolster to unemployment insurance. Funding for small businesses, vaccine distributions and schools are also included.
Many of the key elements of the last coronavirus aid bill have since expired even while millions of Americans continue to be unemployed and the virus rages across the country, having killed more than 309,000 people in the US.
It was unclear if a breakthrough would come Friday or if it would stretch into the weekend.
Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said of negotiations that “many if not all difficult topics are behind us, [though] a few final issues must be hammered out”.
In recent days, Republicans have been gunning for the bill to include restrictions on the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program for businesses and municipalities. Republicans say funding for the program was meant to be temporary, but Democrats are arguing that cuts to the program would hamper the Biden administration’s ability to provide aid to institutions, particularly cash-strapped state and local governments.
Meanwhile, Democrats have been negotiating for money for state and local governments as Republicans show hesitancy to provide direct relief. The compromise appears to be $90bn in funds administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though lawmakers are still working out exactly how an aid program would be structured.
Other issues include how long the additional unemployment insurance should last and eligibility for stimulus checks.
Mark Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia, told the New York Times that “these 11th-hour issues are pretty big. They were issues that neither side, in a month plus of negotiations, ever brought up beforehand”.