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World

US Senate to vote on spending stopgap, as Pelosi suggests longer COVID-19 timeline

  • The Democratic-majority House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a stopgap measure to extend current funding levels until Dec. 18.
  • December 26, the unemployment insurance benefits expire. So some time before then, hopefully that Dec. 18th date.
Published December 11, 2020

WASHINGTON: The US Senate was expected as early as Thursday to extend government funding by one week to give lawmakers time to work out a larger spending package and coronavirus relief, but a top Democrat raised the possibility talks could drag on through Christmas.

The Democratic-majority House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a stopgap measure to extend current funding levels until Dec. 18. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, it would prevent programs from running out of money on Friday at midnight (0500 GMT on Saturday).

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Congress could work on COVID-19 relief until Dec. 26, the day after Christmas when a range of emergency aid programs are set to expire.

"December 26, the unemployment insurance benefits expire. So some time before then, hopefully that Dec. 18th date, we would like to have this done," Pelosi said, when asked how soon a legislative package must be finalized.

"We cannot go home without it," she added. "We've been here after Christmas, you know."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said he anticipates the Senate will take up the one-week extension this week and send it to Trump in time to avoid a government shutdown.

The move gives Congress seven more days to enact a broader, $1.4 trillion "omnibus" spending measure for all government agencies from the Pentagon to national parks.

The pandemic has roared back to levels surpassing those seen early in the crisis, with more than 200,000 new infections reported each day and fresh shutdowns in some areas. More than 286,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, and millions have been thrown out of work.

Congressional leaders hope to attach a long-awaited COVID-19 relief package, the first since $3 trillion in aid was approved last spring to help mitigate pandemic-related shutdowns, job losses and other hardships.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that his discussions with Republican and Democratic senators have made "a lot of progress" with further discussions expected later in the day.

But agreement has remained elusive as proposals and counterproposals on COVID-19 aid have flown around the US Capitol this week. Mnuchin, McConnell and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate have all put ideas on the table.

The thorniest issues - business liability protections sought by Republicans and aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats - have yet to be agreed on.

'GREAT PROGRESS'

Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer say they view the bipartisan group negotiations as the best hope for a COVID-19 deal.

"I think they've made great progress," Pelosi said on Thursday. "I think the values and the priorities that they've established are what we need to do right away."

That group released a summary of their $908 billion proposal Wednesday. It would provide an extra $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits for 16 weeks, from the end of December into April. It also includes money for small businesses, for vaccine distribution, healthcare and education providers, transportation and rental assistance.

While the summary said there was agreement in principle on liability issues and $160 billion in aid to state and local government, it did not give details, and lawmakers said they were still working on them.

Mnuchin presented a $916 billion relief proposal Tuesday with money for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses. But Democrats criticized Mnuchin's plan because it lacked supplementary benefits for the unemployed, among the hardest hit by the pandemic, while including direct checks of $600 for all individuals.

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