Incentive negotiations: a deal is within reach. Can Hill Leaders Finally Hit One?

With government funding running out Friday night, lawmakers must release a massive $ 1.4 trillion package on Tuesday if it has any chance to bypass Congress and prevent agencies from closing by the weekend.

That means Americans can learn on Tuesday whether leaders on Capitol Hill have agreed to provide much-needed assistance, as Congressional leaders want to add the Covid-19 provisions to the omnibus spending package.

Or Americans struggling could be disappointed again if there is no deal and they are forced to wait even longer while lawmakers continue to haggle.

It’s clear to pretty much everyone in Washington that a deal is within reach that includes several key provisions: an extension of unemployment benefits, money for vaccine distribution, funds for schools, small business loans – and a handful of other issues.

But conference leaders still have to agree to such a proposal.

As of late Monday night, there was still no final consensus, with known bottlenecks: Democrats want state and local money to ensure that workers who provide essential services aren’t fired. Republicans believe that much of that money will be wasted. And the GOP lawmakers who are open to more state and local aid say lawsuits should also be protected for companies and other entities, but Democrats argue that the GOP proposals on that idea are going too far.
Sources said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still pushing for state and local assistance as of Monday night. But there were clear signs that the Democrats were likely to abandon that push, something that could lead to a much-anticipated deal.

“It is high time to get this done,” said Senate leader Mitch McConnell, said in the hall on Monday.

Democrats agree with the sentiment.

“This week, the Senate returns with very little time to deal with important matters,” said Chuck Schumer, Senate minority leader.

But can they get there?

Legislators planning to expose the government’s finance bill

The House and Senate appropriators plan to unveil a $ 1.4 trillion bill on Tuesday to fund federal agencies through the end of September 2021, leaving little time ahead of Friday’s deadline for what is expected to be a massive package. are to pass both rooms.

If lawmakers manage to get the colossal legislation out on Tuesday, it will be just as important as the funding provisions whether it includes pandemic relief or not. If it does, that would indicate that a buy-in deal from congressional leaders has been struck, and votes could be taken in the House and Senate for later in the week to take it to the president’s office. (They would still need the cooperation of all senators to get the bill passed quickly.)

If a massive government funding bill is released without pandemic relief, it would pose serious problems for the effort to pass on Covid aid before Congress pauses with the holidays, and could signal the impending demise of the last-ditch effort to conclude an incentive agreement.

There is another scenario: Self-imposed deadlines have a way of slipping into Congress, and it’s always possible that lawmakers won’t release a massive funding deal on Tuesday, despite their intent to do so. If that happens, it could mean that talks on both stimulus and government spending are breaking off and lawmakers could be forced to push the issue further down the road by walking away from a pandemic stimulus deal during the lame duck session. of Congress and short-term funding rather than a much broader, comprehensive spending deal.

“The next few days will yield one of the following two results,” said McConnell. “ Either 100 senators here will shake our heads, blame and apologize for why we still haven’t been able to make a law – or we’ll break for the holidays after sending another huge dose of relief out the door for the people. who need it. ”

Democrats may be forced to give up state and local aid

Monday, there were clear signs that Democrats could be forced to give up an effort of at least $ 160 billion in aid to states and cities short of money to negotiate a bipartisan deal on some emergency provisions.

Pelosi and Schumer both declined to say that the help was a red line for them in the conversations. And during a 22-minute phone call Monday evening, the speaker told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the GOP’s push to include lawsuits for companies and other entities remains “ an obstacle ” to securing an agreement on state and government local aid – as Republicans have done. demanded that the two be tied together.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled the legislative text of a $ 908 billion Covid aid plan. But instead of releasing a single legislative package, the bipartisan coalition split their proposal into two bills, one addressing the thorny issues of state and local aid and liability protection, and the other focusing on provisions expected to have broad bipartisan support. will get.

The move to split the deal shows how difficult it would be to get a broader buy-in for such a package – and Republicans have insisted that they will only back state aid and local aid if it goes along with liability protection, a move that Democrats have resisted.

Two leading Democratic sources who had been briefed on the talks told CNN that it now seems unlikely that state aid and local aid will become a pandemic relief package.

If aid is eventually dropped from the plan, it would amount to a major concession from the Democrats, who had advanced about $ 1 trillion in aid to states and cities as part of a more than $ 3 trillion plan launched by the US in May. Parliament was passed and the Senate never considered it. Democrats had argued that the money was paramount in ensuring that workers providing essential services – ranging from first responders to health workers – could continue to exercise their say.

What does the dual plan say

If Democrats drop their demand for state aid and local aid, the consensus law submitted by the bipartisan coalition on Monday that bypasses this issue and can serve as a ready-to-use jumping-off point for what could be more broadly agreed on Covid relief .

That bill has a price tag of $ 748 billion and includes policy ideas that have proven popular with all parties, such as a boost to the Paycheck Protection Program that has been a lifeline for small businesses devastated by the pandemic, and funds to help distribute vaccines. to support.

According to a summary released Monday, the bill would raise $ 300 billion for the Small Business Administration and funds that would give small businesses the opportunity to take advantage of another loan through the PPP with certain eligibility restrictions.

There would be $ 2.58 billion for CDC vaccine distribution and infrastructure and a 16-week extension of the pandemic unemployment insurance programs, along with a $ 300-a-week extension of federal supplemental unemployment insurance benefits.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a Republican in South Dakota, showed optimism about the bipartisan package Monday, saying, “I think it will eventually go in the right direction.”