Hill negotiators race to finalize Covid relief deal as fight over Federal Reserve bogs down talks


(CNN)Negotiations over the Covid-19 relief package continued late into Friday night and early Saturday morning as top GOP and Democratic aides traded a flurry of proposals in an effort to finalize the long-awaited deal as soon as later in the day, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The goal is to reach a deal Saturday that can be endorsed by the so-called four corners of Congress — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — and finish drafting the bill language over the weekend.

Whether congressional leaders can reach a deal Saturday and can pass it before Sunday night when government funding expires remains a major question.

The big hangup is a dispute over whether to rein in the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority. Republicans argue that the emergency lending program created under the March CARES law needs to be wound down as envisioned by that law, saying leaving it open would amount to a slush fund for the incoming Biden administration.

    But Democrats argue that the authority is essential to continue to prop up the economy and say that the provision — pushed chiefly by Sen. Pat Toomey — would tie the hands of President-elect Joe Biden’s team.

    Hill Leaders are facing growing pressure to lock down a deal as lawmakers remain in Washington this weekend and are now up against another rapidly-approaching deadline after a government shutdown was narrowly averted on Friday evening when the House and Senate approved a two-day extension of government funding.

    Leadership is planning to pass a stimulus deal alongside a $1.4 trillion government funding package for a new fiscal year, tying the two issues together.

    But a series of outstanding policy disputes has created last-minute holdups.

    With the clock ticking, rank-and-file members have become increasingly frustrated with the process, after leaders have signaled for days in a row that a deal is imminent, and with how little information has been released publicly about the details of such a significant bill that they expect to vote on soon.

    Asked if leadership is getting closer to a relief deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Friday evening, “Yeah, we’ve been close for a while now and we still are.”

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced on Friday that the next votes in the House would not occur before 1 p.m. E.T. on Sunday, meaning that lawmakers will be once again backed up against a government funding deadline.

    Americans wait as Congress stalls on pandemic relief

    “We are hopeful they will reach agreement in the near future, they have not reached one yet, there are still some significant issues outstanding,” Hoyer said of the current status of talks.

    The relief deal, which could have a price tag of close to $900 billion, is expected to include money for vaccine distribution and 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 — half the amount given under the March stimulus law.

    Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri have been pushing for a stimulus check of $1,200 for individuals.

    Sanders warned Friday that he would not allow an omnibus spending package to pass the Senate if it does not include “substantial direct payments” for individuals and families. Asked by CNN if he considers $600 checks “substantial,” he refused to say. “I’ve said what I said,” Sanders replied.

      Other outstanding issues include whether there should be further restrictions on eligibility for the one-time checks and whether and how long to extend the eviction moratorium, as some Republicans argue that providing rental assistance could be sufficient, but Democrats disagree.

      This story has been updated to reflect additional developments Saturday.

      CNN’s Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.