Congressional leaders on Monday unveiled a mammoth agreement on a roughly $2.4 trillion spending package that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief after a half-year stalemate, securing another tranche of aid as a surge in COVID-19 infections threatens to further derail the nation's faltering economy.
The House is expected to move swiftly to pass the bill on Monday night. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged that lawmakers won't leave the Capitol until the bill is passed, giving lawmakers and their offices just a few hours to review the massive 5,593-page bill.
If Congress fails to pass the bill or another temporary spending measure, a government shutdown would begin at midnight.
Senate leaders announced the 11th-hour deal Sunday evening after days of frenzied in-person negotiations on Capitol Hill between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The measure includes about $325 billion in small business relief, including $284 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program; an extension of boosted federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week through March 14, 2021, and a second $600 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday he expects the federal government to begin issuing checks to millions of Americans as soon as next week.
The legislation addresses dozens of other issues: It includes $45 billion for transportation needs, $82 billion for schools, $20 billion for vaccine distribution, $13 billion for food assistance and $25 billion in rental assistance. It also extends an eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was poised to sunset at the end of the year through Jan. 31, 2021.
The legislation notably excludes two of the thorniest issues, which have plagued negotiations for months: funding for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Both chambers are expected to approve the measure, which will keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year, and send it to President Trump's desk for his approval.
Democratic leaders, however, made it clear they viewed the package as a critical first step in boosting the economy's recovery from the pandemic.
"We will need to do more," Pelosi said Monday morning while speaking in the House floor, a sentiment echoed by President-elect Joe Biden. In a statement Sunday, Biden said that “this action in the lame-duck session is just the beginning. Our work is far from over.”
The division over another round of aid will likely tee up a battle in the new year with Republicans, who view the latest relief effort as sufficient. During an interview on CNBC, Mnuchin called the $900 billion bill "fabulous" and said it should see the U.S. through the other side of the recovery.
“The direct payments get into the economy very quickly," Mnuchin said. “This is a large bill and it has a little bit of everything for everybody."
The nation's rebound has sputtered in recent weeks amid a surge in COVID-19 infections nationwide and new state and local government lockdown measures. Economists warned that without another aid package, the economy faced a so-called "double-dip" recession.
Job growth is slowing — the economy created just 245,000 new jobs in November, the smallest amount since the recovery began, according to the Labor Department — state and local governments are implementing new lockdown measures, more Americans are filing for unemployment aid each week, retail sales in November shrank for the first time in six months and key lifelines that propped up the economy in the early days of the pandemic are poised to expire at the end of the year.
That includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program created to provide jobless benefits to gig workers and others typically not eligible for benefits, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends state unemployment benefits an extra 13 weeks.
The $900 billion compromise bill will extend those programs through the spring; had it not, some 12 million Americans could have been left without an income the day after Christmas, according to one estimate from the Century Foundation.
"The stimulus deal is a step in the right direction and significantly lowers the odds of a recession in the first quarter," said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial. "Still, massive shutdowns in Europe are a harsh reminder we aren't out of the woods yet."
The $900 billion coronavirus relief bill brings the total amount of government spending in response to the pandemic to more than $3.3 trillion, a staggering amount that highlights the unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy earlier this year and the subsequent fallout.
Congress has not passed substantial relief measures since March, when it signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act into law. That bill expanded unemployment benefits by $600 a week, sent a one-time cash payment of up to $1,200 to Americans earning less than $99,000 and launched the Paycheck Protection Program.
Economists credited the program with staving off the worst economic downturn in U.S history, but the expiration of several key lifelines in the program at the end of the summer coincided with a spike in cases.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been urging Congress to pass another relief bill for months, warning of a bleak winter without new safety nets in place.
“It would be very helpful and very important that there be additional fiscal support for the economy, really to get us through the winter,” Powell said at the beginning of December. “I think we made a lot of progress faster than we expected, and now we have a big spike in COVID cases, and it may weigh on economic activity. People may pull back from activities they were being involved in or not engage in new activities.”