U.S. Congress to vote on stopgap bill as COVID-19 aid talks continue

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S.

Reuters December 08, 2020 03:10:13 IST
U.S. Congress to vote on stopgap bill as COVID-19 aid talks continue

COVID-19 aid talks continue" src="https://images.firstpost.com/wp-content/uploads/reuters/12-2020/08/2020-12-07T120829Z_1_LYNXMPEGB60Q3_RTROPTP_2_HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA-CONGRESS.jpg" alt="US Congress to vote on stopgap bill as COVID19 aid talks continue" width="300" height="225" />

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress will consider a one-week stopgap funding bill this week to provide time for lawmakers to reach a deal in talks aimed at delivering COVID-19 relief and an overarching spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, a top Democrat said on Monday.

Lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-run House of Representatives need to enact a funding measure by Friday, when current funding for federal agencies is set to expire. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hope to attach long-awaited COVID-19 relief to a broad $1.4 trillion spending bill.

But those negotiations have yet to produce agreement, necessitating a House vote on a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution, to allow an additional week of talks.

"I am disappointed that we have not yet reached agreement on government funding. The House will vote on Wednesday on a one-week CR to keep government open while negotiations continue," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, said in a tweet.

A bipartisan effort to deliver an infusion of COVID-19 relief to families and businesses remains hung up over provisions to help state and local governments, which Democrats want, and protect businesses from coronavirus -related lawsuits, a top Republican priority.

A group of House and Senate lawmakers had been expected as early as Monday to roll out the formal text of a $908 billion bill to blunt the health and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic into the early days of President-elect Joe Biden's administration, which begins on Jan. 20.

But lawmakers and their staff failed to get it finalized over the weekend.

There was an upbeat note, however, from the Trump administration. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said coronavirus relief talks were moving in the right direction and that President Donald Trump's administration and Congress were getting closer to agreement.

"We are talking - lots of conversations going on. We are moving in the right direction, I think. We are getting closer," Kudlow said in an online interview with The Washington Post. He said McConnell was the lead Republican negotiator.

'DOUBLE-DIP RECESSION' RISK?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a new memo to Congress that failure to enact relief would risk a "double-dip recession" - which occurs when a recession is followed by a brief recovery and then another recession - that would permanently shutter small businesses and leave millions of Americans with no means of support.

The same issues have blocked coronavirus relief legislation for months, leading to mounting frustration among business owners, unions, state and local government officials, and ordinary Americans.

With the economy weakening and COVID-19 cases surging at a time when previously approved relief mechanisms are due to expire, it would be "stupidity on steroids if Congress doesn't act," Democratic Senator Mark Warner, a member of the bipartisan group that wrote the proposal, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

Lawmakers enacted $3 trillion in aid earlier this year but have not been able to agree on fresh relief since April.

A group of emergency aid programs implemented in response to the pandemic, including additional unemployment benefits and a moratorium on renter evictions, is set to expire at the end of December.

With U.S. coronavirus deaths topping 282,000 and pressure mounting for aid to a fragile economy, the new package is expected to include fresh emergency assistance for small businesses, unemployed people, airlines and other industries. Lawmakers have opted not to include stimulus checks to individuals out of concern that a higher price tag could delay passage.

The framework has support from moderates and conservatives.

McConnell, who has pushed to limit spending to $500 billion, circulated a list of "targeted" relief provisions to Senate Republicans last week that he said Trump would sign. White House officials have also said that Trump favors a targeted measure.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and David Lawder; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O'Brien and Peter Cooney)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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