Here’s What’s in the $908 Billion Covid Relief Package

Here’s What’s in the $908 Billion Covid Relief Package

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Plus, negotiators close in on $1.4 trillion spending package
Monday, December 14, 2020

Lawmakers Unveil $908 Billion Coronavirus Relief Package Split Into Two Bills

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled the details of their $908 billion plan to provide emergency relief for the U.S. economy.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) dropped two bills onto the podium, one outlining a wide range of relief spending totaling $748 billion and another that combines $160 billion in state and local government funding with Covid-related liability protections for businesses, schools and other organizations.

The larger bill, which has unanimous backing from the group of lawmakers, includes:

  • enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week for 16 weeks;
  • an extension of emergency unemployment assistance programs;
  • $300 billion for small business loans and grants through the Paycheck Protection Program;
  • $82 billion for education, including $54 billion for K-12;
  • $45 billion for transportation, including airlines and public transport;
  • $35 billion for health care providers;
  • $25 billion for rental assistance;
  • an extension of the eviction moratorium until January 31;
  • $16 billion for testing, tracing and vaccine distribution;
  • $13 billion for food assistance;
  • $13 billion for farmers, ranchers and fisheries;
  • $10 billion for broadband;
  • student loan forbearance extended until April 1, 2021.

The second bill contains the more controversial issues that still divide the negotiators, largely along partisan lines. It includes a formula and timetable for the dispersal of $152 billion in aid for state and local governments, along with $8 billion for native American populations. And it provides legal protection for organizations and standards for lawsuits in the wake of the pandemic.

The group divided the bills to make it possible to jettison the controversial elements while still moving ahead with the bulk of the relief spending.

What’s not in the bill: The package does not include direct payments, an idea that is popular with most Americans and a handful of lawmakers, including Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“Congress cannot go home for the Christmas holidays until we pass legislation which provides a $1,200 direct payment to working class adults, $2,400 for couples and a $500 payment to their children,” Sanders said Monday.

Sanders urged Democratic leaders to reject any deal that fails to include individual payments. And he criticized the relatively small size of the bipartisan proposal, which relies largely on unused funds from an earlier relief effort. “What kind of negotiation is it when you go from $3.4 trillion to $188 billion in new money? That is not a negotiation. That is a collapse,” Sanders told Politico.

What’s next: While the lawmakers said the bills are ready for a vote, it’s up to leaders in the House and Senate to move the package forward. “Now it's up to the leadership to take it, and make this happen on a timely basis," Manchin said.

Much depends on whether congressional leaders are willing to embrace money state and local governments and liability protections for businesses or leave them both behind.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke about the need for additional Covid relief Monday. “The next several days are going to bring about one of two outcomes,” McConnell said. “Either 100 senators will be here shaking our heads, slinging blame and offering excuses about why we still have not been able to make a law . . . or we will break for the holidays having sent another huge dose of relief out the door for the people who need it.”

McConnell did not mention the bipartisan proposal directly.

Liability Shield Isn’t a Priority for Americans: Poll

Another round of individual stimulus checks is at the top of most Americans’ lists for the next coronavirus relief bill, according to a new poll from Yahoo Finance-Harris.

Asked what they thought was most important to include in the next coronavirus relief bill, 66% of the 2,027 people polled said stimulus checks — the only provision to win majority support. About 47% cited aid for small businesses, while 38% said expanded unemployment benefits.

Liability protections for businesses were less popular, cited by just 23% of respondents, with only student loan forbearance earning less support at 20%.

Gbenga Ajilore, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, told Yahoo that she wasn’t surprised by the results. “The liability shield just doesn't make sense to people. People don't understand why that would be a priority,” Ajilore said. “A liability shield is not going to put food on the table, it’s not going to keep people in their homes.”

Congressional Negotiators Close In on $1.4 Trillion Spending Bill

House and Senate negotiators are reportedly closing in on an agreement on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2021, which began October 1. The deal would avert a government shutdown after midnight on Friday and provide a legislative vehicle for a potential Covid-relief package and other items left on the lame-duck Congress’ year-end agenda.

Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt and Paul M. Krawzak report:

“Negotiators have reached compromises on some of the thorniest issues including border wall spending, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention capacity and funding for veterans health care programs. A handful of smaller items sent to congressional leaders remain to be worked out, but a full agreement is close… .”

Text of the legislation reportedly could be filed on Tuesday.

One of the issues holding up the spending package was a disagreement over how to handle $12.5 billion in funding for programs that allow certain veterans to get health care outside VA facilities. Roll Call reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had objected to allowing that funding to be deemed “emergency” spending and excluded from agreed-upon spending caps, a plan that appropriators had agreed upon in order to avoid other cuts to non-defense programs. In the end, negotiators reportedly will keep the funding under the non-defense spending cap and use other accounting maneuvers to offset the cost.

An end to surprise medical bills?
Long-delayed legislation to protect patients from being hit with “surprise” medical bills reportedly could also be rolled into the spending package after key lawmakers struck a bipartisan agreement late Friday on the divisive measure. You can read more about the details of the agreement here.

The deal could still face hurdles. “While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer quickly announced their support for the bipartisan, bicameral legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been conspicuously quiet,” Vox’s Dylan Scott reports. “His office has simply told reporters they are reviewing the plan. And that’s a big problem if this deal, breakthrough though it is, is ever going to become law and actually put a stop to most surprise bills.”

Read more at Roll Call or Politico.

Trump Cites Another Reason He’ll Veto Defense Bill

President Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the $741 billion National Defense Authorization Act, demanding that it be revised to include a repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which some Republicans say allows tech firms like Facebook and Twitter to censor conservative voices.

Trump has cited other causes of concern, too, including the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders and new restrictions on his ability to remove troops from Afghanistan. On Sunday, he added another reason to the list: “The biggest winner of our new defense bill is China! I will veto!”

The president has until December 23 to decide what to do with the bill. Should he issue a veto, some lawmakers have vowed to override it.

“This latest veto threat is further proof that he cares more about himself than our troops and the safety of the American people,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said of Trump in a statement Sunday. “Now Congress must come together on a bipartisan basis and override this senseless veto and provide for the common defense.”

Heads of New York, LA and Chicago Schools Call for Direct Federal Help

The superintendents of the three largest school districts in the country — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — write in a Washington Post op-ed that their schools, and others across the country, need direct funding from the federal government to get students safely back in classrooms:

“It’s time to treat the dire situation facing public school students with the same federal mobilization we have come to expect for other national emergencies, such as floods, wildfires and hurricanes. A major, coordinated nationwide effort — imagine a Marshall Plan for schools — is needed to return children to public schools quickly in the safest way possible. …

“The cost of this lifeline for schools — an estimated $125 billion — is less than 20 percent of the total earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program and about twice the amount provided to airlines. That’s a relatively small price to safely reopen the public schools that give millions of children a shot at the American Dream and their families the chance to get back to work.”

Read the full piece at The Washington Post.

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