Senior congressional lawmakers said agreement on a long-awaited stimulus bill could come as early as Sunday, as negotiators raced to finalize an economic relief package that has proved elusive for months.
However, several policy disputes remained outstanding, according to multiple aides close to negotiations granted anonymity to discuss the fluid talks, which could push the timeline back again.
The push for an approximately $900 billion relief plan gained new momentum Saturday night as lawmakers resolved a dispute over a Republican plan to rein in the Federal Reserve. The disagreement had emerged as a chief obstacle to an agreement, but Democratic leaders and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announced late Saturday that they had reached an understanding acceptable to both sides.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told lawmakers to expect votes in the House on Sunday related to funding the government and "further coronavirus relief legislation." Hoyer also said votes could occur late Sunday evening.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, also said on "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" that the budget deal would be completed on Sunday.
"This gets done today. No more delays. We're not leaving until we have relief for the American people," Barrasso said.
Still, some smaller hurdles could still be under discussion, according to multiple aides close to negotiations granted anonymity to discuss the fluid talks. For instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Democratic lawmakers Saturday that the parties remained divided over how much aid to provide for hungry Americans. No compromise had been announced on other contentious issues, such as an eviction moratorium that Democrats want to extend and Republicans have pushed to let expire.
Even if leaders are able to resolve remaining sticking points on Sunday, it may take more time for congressional staff to draft those agreements into legislative text and prepare the massive bill for votes in the House and Senate. Lawmakers had also not yet released text of the agreement between senior Democrats and Toomey over the central bank.
Congress has until Sunday at midnight to approve new legislation or parts of the federal government will shut down on Monday. Lawmakers had hoped to vote this weekend on legislation to fund the government along with the broader relief package. Still, bill language had materialized by Sunday morning.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 ranking Republican senator, suggested on Saturday that Congress may need another short-term extension to keep the government open to buy lawmakers more time to finalize an agreement.
The emerging legislative package is expected to devote hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency aid to small businesses and jobless Americans; send stimulus payments worth $600 per person to millions of Americans; and allocate tens of billions of dollars to an array of other critical needs, such as transportation agencies, distressed renters, and hungry people.
"I believe there's going to be a deal. There's always sticking points, but the big one was resolved last night," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said on CNN on Sunday.
Lawmakers were also finalizing parts of the package related to unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. The number of jobless claims has ticked up over the last several weeks with a surge in the coronavirus across the country, and unemployment benefits for millions expired last summer.
At 12:18 a.m. on Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted that Congress needs to give "more money in direct payments." The Washington Post reported last week that White House aides talked Trump out of issuing a public statement demanding stimulus checks as big as $2,000 out of fear he would sink the delicate negotiations.
Congressional lawmakers appeared ready to ignore the president's demands. Barrasso and Romney, both Republicans, said Sunday that the legislation would include stimulus payments of $600 per person, in line with what senior negotiators have been planning for several days.
As part of his proposal, Toomey wanted the Fed's lending programs for businesses and local governments to be cut off at the end of the year, and ensure that no similar programs could be propped up down the line.
While Toomey and Republican leadership held firm for much of Saturday, Democrats chastised the plan, saying it stretched far beyond specific programs propped up under the Cares Act. They also argued the GOP was undermining the Fed's ability to fight future crises, and with it, the incoming Biden administration.
Late Saturday night, Congressional leaders reached a compromise that appeared to clear the path for a stimulus deal. The compromise would prevent exact copies of the expiring programs from being created without Congressional approval. But the Fed will hold onto its broader power to create new programs through its emergency lending authority.