Speed Reads

Congress in action

Congressional leaders pledge to stay in Washington until a COVID-19 stimulus bill is enacted

The leaders of the House and Senate said late Tuesday that they are optimistic about passing both a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government but also a COVID-19 relief package before adjourning for Christmas break. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met at least twice Tuesday, in their first meaningful conversation in months.

"We're making significant progress and I'm optimistic that we are going to be able to complete an understanding some time soon," McConnell said after hours of intense haggling. "We're getting closer." Schumer said "we're exchanging paper and ideas back and forth, making progress, and hopefully we can come to an agreement soon." The leaders said Congress won't head home for the holidays until they pass their first coronavirus relief package since April. Government funding runs out on Friday night and Congress hopes to depart for the year at week's end.

"Senior lawmakers in both parties are optimistic that McConnell and Pelosi will reach a deal on a coronavirus package, but no one seems to know exactly what form that will take — just that it will be decided in the next 24 hours or likely not at all," Politico reports. Tuesday's negotiations focused on the overall price tags and components of the year-end deal, and the coronavirus package is expected to be based on a $748 billion proposal from the bipartisan group of moderate senators who broke the monthlong logjam.

That package includes money for vaccine distribution, small businesses, health care, and augmented unemployment benefits, but not the business liability shield demanded by McConnell or the funding for state and local governments sought by Pelosi and Schumer. It's not clear if the emerging package includes direct payments to Americans. McConnell said the liability and state and local financing can be hammered out in a new relief bill early next year.