Congress strikes stimulus deal after days of frantic talks

The day brought mostly positive momentum after Schumer hatched a deal late Saturday with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) over the GOP’s demand to wind down lending programs established by the relief bill passed in March. With that roadblock removed and a deal announced, the House and Senate are now on a glide path to approve the aid package and its partner, a $1.4 trillion bill funding the government through September.

Though the Fed feud dominated the past 48 hours, the crux of the package remains the same: a $300 boost in weekly unemployment benefits for 11 weeks through March 14, $600 relief checks for adults and children, more than $300 billion for small business aid and huge pots of money for schools, hospitals and vaccine distribution.

Negotiators left behind an attempt to marry a liability shield with aid for state and local governments after it proved impossible to negotiate. The relief checks cost $166 billion, nearly mirroring the $160 billion in state and local aid sought by Democrats.

“Make no mistake about it: this agreement is far from perfect, but it will deliver emergency relief to a nation in the throes of a genuine emergency,” Schumer said on the floor.

And it could be a big vote: Toomey, a diehard fiscal conservative, even said earlier Sunday that he intends to support the package that will amount to roughly $2.3 trillion. He said “the good outweighs the bad.”

But even with McConnell’s announcement of a deal, some of the specific language of the agreement was still being settled, senior House Democrats said on a private caucus call taking place at the same time. Democrats were also left in the dark about potential vote timing — Pelosi had been pushing all day to vote late Sunday but it became impossible as negotiators still labored over text deep into the evening.

Still, it was notable how rushed the process had become. No bill text was available by 5 p.m. despite constant reassurances from congressional leaders they were close to a deal.

But the race to jam a multitrillion-dollar rescue and spending package through the House and Senate has infuriated some Republicans and Democrats, even if they are still likely to vote for the final product.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said she’s “frustrated to be part of an institution that is so dysfunctional that it doesn’t even work until the last minute.”

Still, congressional leaders are expected to be able to muscle the package through both chambers — it’s just a matter of how quickly they can do so.

Trump, who has been largely uninvolved in the stimulus talks, urged lawmakers to boost the direct payments, joining a bipartisan chorus led by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). They’d like to see checks double in size to $1,200, the amount approved by Congress in March.

Asked about Trump’s drive for larger checks on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader, said: “We need to get this done today. The president is right in that this is no fault of the American people.”