Lawmakers face shutdown deadline amid ongoing stimulus talks


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With fewer than two days left on the clock, lawmakers are now discussing the possibility of extending the shutdown deadline, again, to allow more time for negotiations to lock down a deal and push it through the House and Senate. The two issues are tied together since leaders want to tie the relief deal to a $1.4 trillion funding bill to keep the government open through next September.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday it’s “highly likely” lawmakers will need to work through the weekend and if a stopgap bill to avert a shutdown is necessary he hopes the extension will be for just a “short window of time.”

Senate Majority Whip John Thune said Thursday that a stopgap is a “real possibility” since congressional leaders have not been able to close out a stimulus deal.

Thune told CNN he hopes the continuing resolution, or stopgap, is “no more than 24 or 48 hours.”

Unless things change quickly, final consideration of the massive legislative package could slip to the weekend or early next week.

The consensus on Capitol Hill is that there will be a relief deal after months of bickering and stalemate. But Congress is now stuck in a waiting game as the top four congressional leaders and the White House try to iron out the fine print and haggle over the final details.

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Details of what’s likely to be in the plan began to emerge on Wednesday, though nothing is final until legislative text is released.

The price tag could be close to $900 billion and it’s expected to include money for vaccine distribution and for schools, jobless benefits of $300 per week, roughly $330 billion for small business loans, and a new round of stimulus checks, which could be set at around $600 per individual under a certain income threshold.
While the proposal is also expected to include a $90 billion fund administered by FEMA to provide to states and cities, it will not include a large pot of money for state and local governments that Democrats had demanded. It also won’t include protections from lawsuits for businesses and others that opened up during the pandemic, a key GOP priority.

Once a deal is unveiled, congressional leaders will have to corral the rank-and-file and move as fast as possible to bring the legislation to the floor of both chambers.

What’s in part driving the urgency: The Georgia Senate runoff races in January that will determine the next majority. On a phone call with his conference on Wednesday, McConnell noted multiple times how the issue of direct payments has become a major issue in the races.

“Kelly and David are getting hammered,” McConnell said of his GOP colleagues, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Opposition from both sides

With both sides recognizing something must pass, they’ll almost certainly get the votes needed for approval. But they’ll get pushback on both sides, and the criticisms have already started pouring in.

Progressive lawmakers have expressed concern that the size of the stimulus checks won’t be large enough.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, warned in a floor speech on Wednesday that the emerging agreement will be inadequate to address the devastating fallout caused by the pandemic.

“This bill has a lot in it that is good but, given the enormity of the crises that we face, it simply does not go anywhere far enough,” Sanders said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sanders, who has been demanding $1,200 checks, praised the emerging proposal for including stimulus checks even though it’s expected to be lower than what he has pushed for, but he said he would keep demanding more.

There will also likely be GOP concerns about the price tag.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, said “probably” when asked if it was too much money.

“I’m probably against it,” GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said.

If lawmakers pass a stop-gap bill to prevent the government from shutting down, it will be the second time they have done so in a short period of time.

Just last week, the House and Senate both passed a short-term funding bill to extend the shutdown deadline, which had been set for December 11, by one week to this Friday, December 18, at midnight.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

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