Congress aims to fund government for a week to buy time for spending, Covid relief deals

Key Points
  • Congress aims to pass a one-week spending bill, and keep the government running through Dec. 18, as lawmakers rush to strike a coronavirus relief deal and avoid a shutdown.
  • Democratic leaders have backed a bipartisan $908 billion proposal as the basis for an emergency aid bill.
  • An expansion of unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of the month.
House to vote on bill that will fund the government through Dec. 18, sources tell CNBC
House to vote on bill that will fund the government through Dec. 18, sources tell CNBC

Congress aims to extend government funding for an additional week while lawmakers try to scrape together spending and coronavirus relief packages, Republican and Democratic leaders said Monday.

The House plans to vote Wednesday on the short-term measure to keep the government running through Dec. 18, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., later reiterated the plan.

Funding will lapse on Saturday if Congress cannot approve a spending bill. Politico first reported plans for a one-week extension.

The decision to buy more time comes as lawmakers rush to reach agreement both on a broad appropriations plan and a package to boost the health-care system and economy as a sustained Covid-19 infection surge stresses hospitals across the country. Congressional leaders previously signaled they wanted to tie aid provisions to a funding proposal.

But familiar sticking points have emerged as a bipartisan group tries to put the finishing touches on legislation they hope will serve as the template for a year-end rescue package. Failure to act before the end of the year would send millions of Americans spiraling into deeper financial peril.

A display is seen as bipartisan members of the Senate and House gather to announce a framework for fresh Covid-19 relief legislation at a Capitol Hill news conference on Dec. 1, 2020.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

The Senate and House lawmakers aim to release a more detailed outline of their $908 billion aid proposal on Monday as they prepare legislative text. Democratic leaders have backed the plan as the basis for an emergency relief bill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and part of the bipartisan group that crafted the $908 billion plan, told CNBC on Monday that state and local government support and business liability from coronavirus-related lawsuits are the biggest remaining issues in the relief package. He believes the proposal has a better chance of getting through a divided Congress and past President Donald Trump's desk than existing bills written by only one party.

"I think in some way this package passes," Cassidy told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Sen. Bill Cassidy on stimulus talks, debate over liability protection and more
Sen. Bill Cassidy on stimulus talks, debate over liability protection and more

Despite the bipartisan momentum behind a larger package, McConnell on Monday again urged passage of what he calls a "targeted" package worth about $500 billion. He aims to address small business loans, vaccine distribution funding, a temporary extension of unemployment provisions and a liability shield.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had called for more than $2 trillion in spending before they embraced the bipartisan plan. On Sunday, Schumer described the compromise as a stopgap to buoy the country until next year. He hopes Washington can pass a "much bigger bill" after President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20.

"We're at the last minute, we have a bipartisan compromise. It should be the framework for the emergency we have now, to deal with things in the next few months," he told reporters in New York.

Key unemployment expansion provisions put in place earlier this year expire at the end of the month. About 12 million people could lose benefits if Congress fails to act.

Millions of Americans also face the threat of eviction if lawmakers do not sustain a moratorium that lapses at the end of 2020.

The bipartisan package would extend those lifelines. It would put nearly $300 billion into Paycheck Protection Program small business loans and another $160 billion into state and local government aid.

The proposal would reinstate the federal unemployment insurance supplement at $300 per week. It would also direct funds to Covid-19 vaccine distribution, schools and the transportation sector, among other provisions.

It would not include a second round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans. Lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have questioned how much help families would actually get without another stimulus check.

On Friday, Biden said direct payments "may still be in play" as part of a relief package.

McConnell has also backed broad protections for businesses and universities from coronavirus-related lawsuits, which Sanders and others who caucus with Democrats oppose. The bipartisan plan as introduced last week would create a temporary federal liability shield while states determine their own laws.

McConnell and Trump have also opposed additional aid for cash-crunched state and local governments. However, Cassidy and other Republicans have championed relief as a step to save jobs among first responders and teachers who could otherwise lose their jobs as governments cut costs.

"This is about robust growth," Cassidy said Monday. "This about taking care of first responders. I don't want to be the guy defunding the police."

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