Congress set to vote on $900 billion pandemic relief package

After months of Washington gridlock, Congress is set to vote on a $900 billion pandemic relief package, finally delivering long-sought cash to businesses and individuals as well as resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Lawmakers tacked on thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a burst of legislation as Capitol Hill is set to close down for the year.

The relief package, agreed to on Sunday and finally released in bill form Monday afternoon, remained on track for votes in Congress on Monday. It would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

The 5,593-page legislation — the longest bill in memory and probably ever — came together Sunday after months of battling, posturing and postelection negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted in the fall.

Biden praised the bipartisan spirit that produced the measure, which he called “just the beginning.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a key negotiator, said on CNBC Monday morning that the direct payments would begin arriving in bank accounts next week.

Democrats acknowledged it wasn’t as robust a relief package as they initially sought — or, they say, the country needs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed more to come once Biden takes office.

“It is a first step,” she said. “We have to do more.”

The final agreement would be the largest spending measure yet. It combined $900 billion for COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion governmentwide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education. The governmentwide funding would keep the government open through September.

Passage neared as coronavirus cases and deaths spiked and evidence piled up that the economy was struggling. The legislation had been held up by months of dysfunction and bad faith. But talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

Source: Associated Press – ANDREW TAYLOR