- The Washington Times - Monday, December 21, 2020

Democrats and Republicans linked arms Monday and rushed to pass a new round of coronavirus relief, saying they were delivering a measure of hope to families grimly confronting the holidays and new year amid a new round of shutdowns.

The bill, which also included full funding for all other government operations in 2021, cleared both chambers with strong bipartisan support late Monday night. It now needs to be signed into law by President Trump.

The package passed with less than 20 minutes to spare before the midnight deadline, but Congress also passed a weeklong funding measure to give the deal time to be formally processed, giving them a bit more breathing room.

The deal made by top party leaders on Capitol Hill ends an eight-month logjam, during which the virus went through two new surges, U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 topped 300,000, and the jobs picture began to slump again.

The breakthrough came earlier this month when a group of centrist Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate announced that they had worked out a $900 billion deal, forcing those on their right and left to come back to the table.

Monday’s relief package tracked closely to the size of the centrists’ proposal, though many of the details were rewritten and big sticking points, such as aid to local governments and liability protections for businesses reopening amid the pandemic, were put off for future negotiations.

“Our consensus bill was the foundation of this final package and we applaud Congressional leadership for finishing what we started,” the centrists said in a statement Sunday, as the leaders’ deal was announced.

Monday’s bipartisan votes offered hope not only that assistance was on the way for the virus, but also that next year could usher in more bipartisan deal-making.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden has called this bill a down payment and said he will come back to Congress to ask for more next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said tops on that list will be the state and local funding she was forced to drop from this bill.

“While we have recognized the urgent need for resources to crush the virus so we can open our economy and schools safely, we must also recognize that more needs to be done,” she said in a letter to her Democratic House colleagues.

Asked if he would come back for another bite at the apple, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters “We’ll see next year.”

The Kentucky Republican said this bill could have been done months ago, but for Mrs. Pelosi’s insistence throughout the summer and fall for more at least $2 trillion in spending.

“But a few days ago, with a new president-elect of their own party, everything changed. Democrats suddenly came around to our position that we should find consensus, make law where we agree and get urgent help out the door,” Mr. McConnell said.

Lawmakers were left struggling to digest the massive bill, which spanned 5,593 pages and $2.3 trillion in total spending when the 2021 government operations legislation is combined with the virus relief package.

A computer glitch delayed the release of the bill text until about 2 p.m., and the first procedural votes on the package occurred in the House a little after 5 p.m.

“It’s not good enough to hear about what’s in the bill. Members of Congress need to see and read the bills we are expected to vote on,” Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, tweeted. “I know it’s ‘controversial’ and I get in trouble for sharing things like this, but the people of this country deserve to know. They deserve better.”

The final deal includes another round of stimulus checks, though at $600 — half the amount of the checks that went out last spring. But officials said the money could reach Americans’ hands faster.

“People are going to see this money [at] the beginning of next week,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said during an interview with CNBC on Monday morning. “Much-needed relief — and just in time for the holidays.”

Adults making $75,000 or less will qualify for the full $600 payment, with higher earners getting tapered amounts and payments capped for those making more than $99,000. Families will receive an additional $600 per child.

Illegal immigrants will not be eligible, but the bill will alter a provision from last spring that denied some U.S. citizens benefits because they are married to a noncitizen who lacks a Social Security number.

The deal also has roughly $284 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the eviction moratorium, and $82 billion for schools and colleges grappling with reopening and distance learning.

Another round of federal unemployment benefits is also included, beginning Dec. 27 and running through early March. The checks, which are in addition to state assistance, will total $300 per week — half the $600-a-week benefits that were part of the relief package last spring.

Both parties celebrated the billions of dollars being pumped into vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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