Congress battles to strike stimulus deal on eve of shutdown

“I think we’ve been close for a long time… But the ones that we don’t agree to are pretty serious,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Friday night, as he unloaded on the attempts led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to wind down a Fed program intended to support the economy amid the pandemic.

“It is totally political, and in my opinion, a putrid political effort to diminish President Biden’s authority,” Hoyer said. Toomey counters he’s long sought to prevent the central bank from going too far during the crisis.

Asked if the two sides could ultimately resolve that issue, McConnell told reporters Friday night: “Yeah, we’re going to get there.”

If and when an accord is reached, House and Senate leaders will need to move at lightning speed — with virtually no room for dissent within their parties — to muscle through the massive package before government funding expires midnight Sunday.

Both chambers cleared a two-day stopgap funding bill Friday night, buying more time for a deal that has remained elusive for months.

The Senate will hold its first set of votes at 11 a.m. on an unrelated Trump nomination, where lawmakers hope to learn details of the still-evolving package, which is expected to include roughly $900 billion in small business loans, unemployment aid and direct payments for most Americans.

House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, will brief their members on a conference call at noon. With no deal in hand by Friday night, Hoyer told members that the House would not vote until 1 p.m. on Sunday, at the earliest.

Pressure, meanwhile, is mounting on leaders of both parties as the U.S. again surpasses its daily record of new cases and deaths continue to surge.

And even while the first vaccines have arrived on Capitol Hill in recent days, fears spread of a new outbreak as some House members and reporters tested positive for the virus.

“I’m wondering why we can’t get a bill that we’re all reading about in the paper done, and it could’ve been passed in July since everybody agrees with everything it in, pretty much,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said in an interview Friday.

“But hopefully we’re in visual sight of the finish line here,” Cole said. “It’s Christmas, I’m determined to be optimistic.”

The recovery package will be merged on the floor with a must-pass, $1.4 trillion government funding bill in one of the biggest legislative packages of the 116th Congress. The final measure is also expected to include a slew of year-end tax and health extenders, as well as long-awaited legislation to address “surprise” medical bills.

Rank-and-file lawmakers have complained they’ve been largely kept in the dark on the talks, and expect to have little time to review the deal before it comes for a vote.

“The fact that these are just negotiations that happen, backdoor, and we’re hearing secondhand what’s in this, should be unacceptable,” a frustrated Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview Friday, just after lawmakers left the Capitol without a deal.

“We’ll get the final text, they’ll call a vote 30 minutes after the text is released, and you’re frantically trying to sift through,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s terrible.”

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