BY PETER KING, ELEANOR MUELLER AND XIMENA BUSTILLO
*This article was originally made available to POLITICO Pro subscribers on 12/22/2020
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Late on Dec. 21, Congress cleared a massive bill, H.R. 133 (116), that merges a $1.4 trillion fiscal 2021 omnibus spending agreement to fund the government through September with a $900 billion coronavirus relief package and numerous other legislative measures, such as a comprehensive energy package, language to extend various tax provisions and language to end so-called surprise medical billing.
The relief package includes provisions for another round of direct payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits and billions of dollars for struggling industries. More than $300 billion will go to small business loans, as well as new money for schools, hospitals and vaccine distribution. The agreement would offer payments of up to $600 per person, including children, for families earning up to $150,000 a year.
The Senate cleared the measure 92-6 shortly before midnight, only 10 hours after congressional leaders unveiled the text of the 5600-page bill.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL?*
*Here, our team breaks down what is in major sections of H.R. 113 (116). Some segments have been removed.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR?
Coronavirus relief: After lawmakers approved four coronavirus rescue bills in the nascent days of the pandemic, the appetite for bipartisanship significantly waned as the presidential election approached.
But pressure from moderate rank-and-file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in early December — as well as another brutal surge in Covid-19 cases — spurred serious negotiations among congressional leaders and top Trump administration officials. Adding to the sense of urgency, a slew of critical aid programs were set to expire on Dec. 26.
Desperate to take matters into their own hands, a group of bipartisan senators dubbed the “908 Coalition” produced a stimulus framework. Then they drafted hundreds of pages of bill text. When they finally released it, the hard work began.
Armed with the centrist lawmakers’ proposal, Washington’s top leaders had no spending target in common when they convened Dec. 15. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had proposed several bills ranging from $500 billion to nearly $1 trillion, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wanted $2 trillion or more and Mnuchin and Pelosi had talked about $1.8 trillion. Schumer said the ensuing discussions over total spending consumed a day and a half.
Last-minute drama over a series of provisions delayed passage of the bill for days, but the major pillars of the relief package remained the same: $600 direct payments to individuals and families, enhanced unemployment benefits, small business aid, and funding for distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Spending bills: Separately, annual spending bills fell victim to election-year politics, as usual. Instead, Congress has funded the government since Oct. 1 through a series of stopgaps, leaving bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on a slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills until the last-minute.
Congressional leaders sought to attach coronavirus aid to the broader spending deal because it’s one of the last major pieces of legislation moving through the 116th Congress.
Action: The long-delayed relief measure, coupled with the $1.4 trillion package to fund the government through September, ultimately passed both chambers Dec. 21 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities: 359-53 in the House and 92-6 in the Senate.
Lawmakers of both parties acknowledged that the aid package was far from perfect, with Democrats arguing that it fell short in key areas, such as aid to state and local governments, and Republicans lamenting that it did not provide a liability shield for schools and businesses.
The White House had signaled that Trump, who has been mostly absent from the negotiations, would sign the measure. But the president called the coronavirus relief package a "disgrace" late on Dec. 22, raising the possibility of a veto.
Because the House rule providing for the bill's consideration included a seven-day continuing resolution, Trump has until the end of Dec. 28 to sign H.R. 133 before the government would shut down.
Party leaders spent so long haggling over the final agreement, however, that some economists warn it may arrive too late to halt a double-dip recession.
Even if the package becomes law, Congress will be under pressure to deliver more coronavirus relief early in 2021, however, with federally enhanced unemployment benefits expiring in mid-March and a federal eviction ban expiring at the end of January. If Democrats win control of the House, Senate and the White House, they’ll have an easier time delivering trillions of dollars in additional fiscal stimulus. But if Republicans hold onto the Senate, additional aid will only come through bipartisan compromise.
WHAT ARE SOME STORIES ON THE BILL?
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