‘Pre-Christmas cliffhanger:’ McConnell says Congress will keep working through the weekend to pass a stimulus deal

Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, Congress
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  • Stimulus negotiations continue to drag on as lawmakers approach a critical deadline.

  • McConnell said it was “highly likely” senators would be working into the weekend.

  • Schumer said an agreement was near, but some hangups remain in the finer details including a pot of federal money for states along with the size of Federal Reserve lending programs.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Republicans and Democrats are rushing to finalize a roughly $900 billion emergency government relief package. Several sticking points remain though, causing negotiations and passage of the emergency legislation to possibly slip into the weekend.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened his floor remarks on Thursday by saying Congress in no stranger “to December funding deadlines or the occasional pre-Christmas cliffhanger.” The Kentucky Republican suggested that it was likely the chamber would stay in session at least through Saturday.

“For the information of all Senators, we are going to stay right here until we are finished, even if that means working into or through the weekend, which is highly likely” he said. “And if we need to further extend the Friday funding deadline before final legislation can pass in both chambers, I hope we only extend it for a very, very short window of time.”

A similar attitude was reflected in Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s remarks on the Senate floor. The New York senator said “we are very close to an agreement.”

“None of the remaining hurdles cannot be overcome. Everyone is committed to achieving a result,” he said. “And we will not leave until we get the job done.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that “we made some progress this morning and we’re waiting to hear back.” She declined to say whether a deal would be reached today.

Congressional leaders are rushing to finalize an agreement on a federal rescue package that’s expected to funnel cash to individuals, businesses, and public health agencies among other recipients. It is likely to contain $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits as well as $600 stimulus payments for Americans.

But lawmakers face a midnight deadline on Friday to pass a short-term spending bill to keep many federal agencies funded or major parts of the government will start shutting down.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that passage of a short-term spending measure was indeed a possibility.

“You’ve got to contemplate another CR,” the Alabama Republican said, referring to a continuing resolution to fund the government for a brief amount of time. He added, “I think it’d be short.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranked Republican in the chamber, said he hoped a continuing resolution would not stretch on beyond “24 or 48 hours.”

Other Republicans expressed support for negotiations to stretch into the weekend if it became necessary. In a brief interview on Capitol Hill, Sen. Mitt Romney told Business Insider negotiators appeared to still be hammering out the finer details of the relief plan.

“We’ve put out a proposal which is being used as a basis for the discussions,” he said, referring to a $748 billion compromise package. “But there are obviously a number of fine points that are being further discussed and if that takes more time, give it more time.”

Hangups include stimulus checks, aid to states, Federal Reserve lending

The Washington Post reported that Republicans were seeking to curb the emergency lending powers of the Federal Reserve, which manages many economic relief programs alongside the Treasury Department. Democrats argue the move would stymie the ability of President-elect Joe Biden to pull the economy out of the pandemic downturn. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing to include a $90 billion pot of money for the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which it then could distribute to states and cities, the Post reported. But Republicans oppose federal aid to state and municipal governments and the talks remain highly uncertain.

Another hangup appeared to be the $600 stimulus check, which would be half the federal payments distributed to Millions of Americans in March and April.

Thune suggested both parties were still haggling over the structure of the direct payments on Thursday. He added that he would like to see income benchmarks and whether lawmakers could narrow the number of people benefiting from the check “to those who need it most.”

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion about how to further restrict who gets it, so it really helps the people who need it the most and, and that would be one way of driving that score down,” Thune told Capitol Hill reporters. “So I think those are all things that are being finessed right now.”

Congress is running up against more deadlines with potentially dire implications for many Americans if they fail to strike a deal soon. Nearly 13 million people are threatened with the loss of unemployment aid within two weeks if certain federal programs are not renewed. 

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