Congress Could Pass a $900 Billion COVID Stimulus Bill This Week. Or There Might Be a Government Shutdown.
By the end of this week, Congress might pass another massive COVID-19 relief bill aimed at bailing out small businesses and filling the coffers of state and local governments—or the federal government might be heading into another end-of-year shutdown.
That such a wide range of outcomes exists is as much an indication of Congress’ broken and dysfunctional bill-passing procedure as it is a sign of the uniquely weird lame-duck session the government is currently staggering through. With control of the Senate still undecided pending two runoff elections in Georgia next month and President Donald Trump (and many Republicans in Congress) still refusing to acknowledge the result of last month’s election, the unsettled political situation is spilling over into the policy making arena.
Not that Congress needs much help in making a mess of things. A recent track record that includes two shutdowns—along with a few other near-misses—and unprecedented levels of peacetime deficit spending is proof enough of that.
Unlike the late-in-the-year budgets in 2017 and 2018 that caused government shutdowns, however, this year’s must-pass spending bills are complicated by the ongoing pandemic. For months, Congress has debated the passage of another COVID-19 relief bill—with various proposals costing between $500 billion and $3 trillion—without success.
The centerpiece of the latest proposal, a $908 billion package, is the provision that would give $300 per week to unemployed workers—that is a federal boost to whatever state-level unemployment benefits those same workers might also qualify for—extending benefits that are otherwise set to expire later this month. It also includes $160 billion in funding for state and local governments, a scaled down version of the bailout Democrats have been seeking for months. The package includes $300 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which pays businesses to keep workers on the payroll even if they aren’t working, and $25 billion in housing assistance to help America
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