Congress passes bill to avoid partial government shutdown and gets more time to debate $1,200 stimulus checks

CONGRESS passed a stopgap bill to avoid a partial government shutdown this week as lawmakers buy more time to decide on the $1,200 stimulus checks.

Capitol Hill politicians now have more time to hammer out the endgame for the $900billion Covid-19 economic relief package after passing a temporary bill on Friday night.

It was difficult to close out final disagreements but House leaders are going to work through the weekend and are hoping for a vote on the package by 1pm on Sunday, reported Politico and The Associated Press.

The temporary funding bill was passed by a 320-60 vote and the Senate approved it by voice vote almost immediately before Donald Trump signed it.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said both sides were determined to reach an agreement, noting: "We've been close for a while now. And we still are.”

The complex negotiation issues include Democrats blaming GOP Senator Pat Toomey's demands to wind down the Federal Reserve program.

Their Republican counterparts argue that Dems are going to use it as a backdoor bailout for states and cities.

Despite GOP concerned about spending, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Republican Josh Hawley want larger checks than the $600 currently on the table.

Democratic Party members tried to block Republicans from reining in the emergency Federal Reserve lending powers, saying the GOP proposal would deprive President-elect Joe Biden of crucial tools to sort the economy.

While a $900billion package remains in congressional limbo, the killer coronavirus is claiming more than 3,000 victims per day and Americans are set to wait months for a vaccine as jobless rates soar.

The current package would give $300billion to businesses, $300-per-week bonus federal unemployment benefit, renew state benefits set to expire at Christmas, and $600 direct payments to individuals.

It also funds vaccine distribution, money for renters, schools, the Postal Service, and people needing food aid.

But Dems objected to a provision by conservative Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania, that shutters over $400billion in potential Federal Reserve lending powers established under the Cares Act in March.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is shutting down the programs at the end of December.

But Toomey wanted to bar the Fed from restarting the lending next year, which and Democrats say would put the US economy at risk.

Biden's economic adviser Brian Deese said: "As we navigate through an unprecedented economic crisis, it is in the interests of the American people to maintain the Fed’s ability to respond quickly and forcefully.

“Undermining that authority could mean less lending to Main Street businesses, higher unemployment and greater economic pain across the nation.”

These programs provided loans to small and mid-sized businesses and bought state and local government bonds, making it easier for those governments to borrow after their finances were pummeled by Covid.

The Fed needs the support of the Treasury Department to restart the programs and Biden’s Treasury secretary nominee, Janet Yellen, would likely provide this.

The Cares passed virtually unanimously in March, delivering $1.8trillion in aid, $600 per week bonus jobless benefits and $1,200 direct payments to hard-hit Americans.

The GOP want “paycheck protection” payments sent to businesses and renewal of soon-to-expire state jobless benefits for people out of work.

Democrats were denied fiscal relief for states and local governments but they won a supplemental Covid-19 unemployment benefit that was only half the size of what the Cares Act delivered.

They also got $25billion to help struggling renters with their payments and $45billion for airlines and transit systems.

Before the election, Democratic demands for a $2trillion bill were quickly shot down by their Republican counterparts.

Now, Biden is pushing for an agreement, fearing a weakening economy will await him on Inauguration Day, as he promises another bill next year.

But Dem bargaining power will wane drastically if they lose the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January and fail to win the Senate majority.

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News of a temporary stopgap on Friday emerged after months of cross-party negotiations.

Eight days ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a smaller package was acceptable because "in less than 1,000 hours" Biden would take over from Trump.

Rep Steny Hoyer promised on Thursday that US representatives wouldn't be breaking until a decision was made about the $908billion framework proposal by December 15 after talks hit a deadlock.

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