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Second stimulus check update: Congress plans to work through the weekend. Here’s the latest. – nj.com

Second stimulus check update: Congress plans to work through the weekend. Here’s the latest. – nj.com

Congress expects to spend the weekend before Christmas in Washington as negotiations continue on a new $900 billion coronavirus stimulus bill.

Lawmakers had hoped to combine the stimulus with legislation funding the government past Friday, but House Democrats and Senate Republicans made plans to pass a short-term temporary spending bill to avoid another shutdown and provide more time to work toward an agreement on both measures.

Even if a stimulus deal is made, Gov. Phil Murphy said it would be far short of what was needed.

“We need a big moment to match this pandemic moment,” Murphy said Friday at his latest coronavirus briefing. “I think the number’s 3 to 4 trillion (dollars) and they’re spending an enormous amount of time making sure it is under 1 trillion. I’m not sure what they’re worried about.”

Some last-minute snags have complicated efforts to reach a deal on a stimulus package that would include direct checks of around $600, extend unemployment insurance benefits, and add a new round of forgivable loans for small businesses and make it easier for restaurants to qualify.

Lawmakers are also working to help live entertainment venues, provide nutrition assistance and vaccine distribution, and continue a federal moratorium on evictions.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage

The biggest holdup appeared to be a demand from Senate Republicans, led by U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., to end Federal Reserve emergency lending programs that have helped the economy during the coronavirus-induced downturn.

That demand was not part of the earlier bipartisan stimulus proposal that several Senate Republicans agreed to, but it is a major sticking point now.

“It’s something that’s a very big priority for a lot of our members,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.

Toomey said the programs were scheduled under the CARES Act to expire at the end of the year and he just wanted to make sure that they could not be “re-started or duplicated without authorization by Congress.”

Democrats said the proposal would give President-elect Joe Biden fewer options than President Donald Trump to handle an economic downturn.

“At the precipice of a deal to provide relief to American families, essential workers, and small businesses, Senate Republicans are now suddenly insisting that we limit the federal government’s ability to fight all future economic crises,” New Jersey U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said. “The new limitations on the Federal Reserve that Republicans are pushing for would leave us with fewer tools to combat recessions that threaten Americans’ jobs, savings, and hope for a better future.”

Thune said there was a concern that the Fed could use that authority to help state and local governments weather the economic downturn.

“It would be a travesty to allow these personal pet issues to derail help with food, eviction moratorium, rental assistance and unemployment dollars at the last minute,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., part of a bipartisan group of senators and representatives whose proposal jump-started negotiations earlier this month.

“We can’t let any Scrooges steal Christmas.”

Aid to cash-strapped states and localities to avoid layoffs of police officers, health care workers, teachers and other public employees had been a major stumbling block during the negotiations, and was dropped from the final package along with Republican demands to protect businesses, schools and other institutions from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Murphy placed the blame for the lack of state aid on Senate Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“History will be extraordinarily unkind to these people,” Murphy said. “It’s just clear as day and it shouldn’t be partisan.”

“It’s an incredible abrogation of responsibility at a time of desperate need in our nation and I think reputationally those folks will pay a big price,” he said.

While the compromise legislation provides for around $600 in new direct payments, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tried unsuccessfully Friday to get the Senate to take up his bill providing for $1,200 stimulus checks.

“It should be the first thing that we could do,” Hawley said on the Senate floor. “If we’re going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on bailing out this, that, and the other, surely we can start with reasonable modest relief to the working people in need in this nation.”

But U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., blocked action on the legislation. Johnson, who voted for the Republican tax law that increased the federal debt by $1.9 trillion over 10 years, said he was worried that higher stimulus payments would grow the deficit.

“We are mortgaging our children’s future and I think we need to be very careful about mortgaging it further,” Johnson said.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com or on Twitter @JDSalant.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.

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Published at Sat, 19 Dec 2020 01:37:00 +0000

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