Congress is working all weekend to finish the COVID aid package deal


© Reuters. The dome of the US Capitol can be seen in Washington at night

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington worked all weekend to finalize $ 900 billion in coronavirus support law for American individuals and businesses suffering the economic fallout from pandemic lockdowns.

It would be the largest aid package since this spring, when Congress approved more than $ 4 trillion in aid. The COVID-19 pandemic killed 311,000 Americans, by far the most in the world, and left millions of people unemployed. Economists say growth is likely to remain sluggish until vaccines become widespread by mid-2021.

The Senate is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) on Saturday. Representative Steny Hoyer, the second highest Democrat in the House of Representatives, said Friday that a vote on a package would not take place until Sunday afternoon.

Republicans and Democrats say they are close to a deal, but significant differences remain.

Republicans are pushing to curb the Federal Reserve's lending programs for midsize businesses and municipal bond issuers designed to ease the sting of the pandemic, saying these programs are temporary. However, Democrats say the move is an attempt to tie the hands of President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20.

The parties also disagree on how much to give to art venues closed by COVID-19 restrictions and how much emergency aid should go to local governments to get supplies like personal protective equipment for schools.

But many problems were solved. The legislation is expected to include one-time $ 600 checks for most Americans, increased unemployment benefits of $ 300 a week, aid to states that distribute coronavirus vaccines, and more support for small businesses.

The deal does not include corporate liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a provision that was pushed by Republicans and has long been a red line for Democrats. Nor does it include the extensive aid to state and local governments that the Democrats wanted.

Congressional leaders believe the package will be added to a $ 1.4 trillion spending bill designed to fund the U.S. government's activities through September 2021. State funds were due to expire on Friday, but lawmakers approved a two-day emergency law to buy more time, which President Donald Trump had signed into law late Friday.

Congress now has a Sunday midnight deadline to approve additional funds.

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Steven Gregory