SPONSORED:

Congress passes $2.3T coronavirus relief, government funding deal

Congress passed a sweeping year-end bill to provide long-delayed coronavirus relief and fund the government, capping off a months-long fight for more assistance. 

The Senate voted 92-6 on the $2.3 trillion package, which includes $1.4 trillion to fund the government and $900 billion in coronavirus relief, the first time Congress has passed additional aid since April. 

The bill, which passed the House earlier Monday, now goes to President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE’s desk, where he has until Dec. 28 to sign it.

ADVERTISEMENT

Passage of the bill follows growing pressure for Congress to act before wrapping up its work for the year as cases of coronavirus are steadily spiking, states and cities are reinstating lockdown measures, and public health officials are warning of a brutal winter even as two vaccines are starting to be administered. 

“None of us think this legislation is perfect, but a big bipartisan majority of us recognize the incredible amount of good it will do when we send it to the president’s desk. The American people have waited long enough. I’m glad for our country that we’re now moving ahead together,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) said on Monday ahead of the vote. 

The mammoth package, which totaled 5,593 pages, wasn’t publicly released until just hours before the Senate’s vote. The combined omnibus-coronavirus legislation is among the largest spending bills ever considered by Congress. 

The coronavirus relief portion of the bill doesn’t include the biggest priorities for Republicans or Democrats — liability protections and more money for state and local governments, respectively. 

But it does include $284 billion for another round of small-business aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $300-per-week federal unemployment boost for 11 weeks, a round of $600 stimulus checks for those making up to $75,000, more money for schools and hospitals, and an extension of an eviction moratorium. 

The government funding portion includes $1.375 billion for 56 miles for Trump’s border wall, $5 million to create a database to track police misconduct, $153 million for programs to improve community relations with police, a 3 percent pay raise for the military and a 1 percent pay raise for the civilian federal workforce. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Because it’s the final package passing Congress this year, it’s emerged as a legislative Christmas tree for unrelated items, including greenlighting the American Latino and women’s history museums, a long-stalled energy bill, a proposal ending surprise medical billing, and a provision helping states eradicate the so-called murder hornet.

The White House has said Trump will sign the deal, with spokesman Ben Williamson saying that the president “has pushed hard for months to send Americans badly needed financial relief.” 

Trump has until Dec. 28 to sign the bill after Congress passed, and he approved, a seven-day continuing resolution (CR). The stopgap legislation is being used as a backstop to make sure there isn't a shutdown while Congress delivers the bill to the White House heading into the holidays.

It was not guaranteed that Congress would be able to get a deal following months of gridlock between congressional Democrats and the White House and even at times disagreements between Senate Republicans and the White House. 

The House passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May and a slimmed down $2.2 trillion bill in October, neither of which was taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate. 

Meanwhile, Senate GOP leadership, after hitting “pause” for months, offered a $1.1 trillion package that was immediately panned from within the caucus, with McConnell predicting he could lose up to 20 GOP senators. It was never given a vote. The GOP leader then offered two roughly $500 billion packages, which failed upon party lines. 

Talks between Democrats and the White House broke down shortly before the election and were stuck in a stalemate when a bipartisan, bicameral group, frustrated with the inability for leadership to break a deal, began talks in mid-November that stretched over dinner meetings and Zoom calls. 

"It was just a month ago, I was reminded — Nov. 17, apparently — that I had an opportunity to invite some colleagues over to my house for dinner and conversation. And while it wasn't pizza, it didn't make any difference what we were eating. It was all about the conversation and what we could do to be responsive to the urgency of the need," said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats MORE (R-Alaska). 

"When we presented the multihundred-page package to the public, to the administration, to leadership, we basically said, 'Here is a gift. Take it,' " she added. 

The group — composed of members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus and centrist senators including Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Maine), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Durbin: Senate should consider changes to filibuster MORE (D-W.Va.) and Murkowski — offered a $908 billion package divided into two sections. The first $748 billion piece included widely accepted ideas such as PPP aid and school and vaccine funding. 

The second piece included $160 billion for state and local funding and liability protections. In underscoring their politically tricky nature, Manchin was the only Senate Democrat from the group to support the second piece. 

Leadership has credited the bipartisan group with helping break the stalemate by prodding it toward the areas that garnered broad support. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The final deal dropped those two most contentious pieces as part of a frenzy of around-the-clock negotiations that started in earnest on Dec. 15, when McConnell, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop More hands needed on the nuclear football Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop House GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote McCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden MORE (R-Calif.) met twice in the Capitol, with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden can hold China accountable for human rights abuses by divesting now Pence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' MORE phoning in. 

By Wednesday morning, leadership appeared close, but talks dragged on for days amid several hang-ups, requiring Congress to pass a two-day CR Friday night to buy itself more time, avoiding a government shutdown, until Sunday night. A deal was stuck on the final snag — emergency lending facilities under the Federal Reserve — on Friday night. 

In a boon to Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBoycott sham impeachment Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Sanders: Senate may use budget reconciliation to pass Biden agenda MORE (I-Vt.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump DHS chief argues for swift confirmation of Biden pick amid Hawley hold Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE (R-Mo.) — who emerged as an eleventh-hour odd couple — coronavirus aid will include a second round of stimulus checks, which Mnuchin said some Americans could receive starting next week. Though the checks are half of the $1,200 the pair was pushing for, neither McConnell’s latest proposal nor the bipartisan package included a second round of checks.

Leadership announced a deal on the overall package early Sunday evening, though printing and computer errors delayed release of the text on Monday, with the down-to-the-wire effort sparking pushback. 

“The squad” — a coalition of progressives that includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTexas man charged for alleged role in Capitol riots, online death threats to Ocasio-Cortez DC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Tensions running high after gun incident near House floor MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyBelfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington Federal government carries out 13th and final execution under Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (D-Mass.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Overnight Energy: EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations | Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report | Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report MORE (D-Mich.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDemocrats poised to impeach Trump again Pence opposes removing Trump under 25th Amendment: reports Pelosi vows to impeach Trump again — if Pence doesn't remove him first MORE (D-Minn.) — voted against the rule setting up the House’s debate on the package. 

“This is why Congress needs time to actually read this package before voting on it. Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours. This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, fiscal hawks in the Senate grumbled over the burst in year-end spending. 

“We are $27 trillion in debt today. How do we expect a child to have the economic opportunity when this crushing debt is their inheritance from Congress?” Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech. 

Congress is already turning its attention to the fight next year over a potential sixth package. 

Democratic leadership is characterizing the package that passed Monday as a “down payment,” pledging that they will push for more after Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFive examples of media's sycophancy for Biden on inauguration week Drastic measures for drastic times — caregiver need mobile health apps Boycott sham impeachment MORE is sworn in. 

“We advance this bill today as a first step. We have new hope which springs from the vaccine and from the commitment President-elect Biden has to following science.  We are ready for the next step,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats shortly before Monday’s vote.

But there’s no guarantee more help is on the way or that they’ll be able to get an agreement that resolves the thorny fights on state and local money and protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Which party will control the Senate next year will be determined by the two Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5. 

McConnell is already doubling down on his red line that any coronavirus legislation in 2021 will have to include liability protections — a demand viewed as anathema to Democrats who worry it will hollow out worker safety standards. 

"I think liability relief is really important,” McConnell said during a Fox News interview Monday. “And if there is another coronavirus relief bill after the first year of the year, I'm going to insist that liability protection for these universities and healthcare providers is a part of it.” 

Updated at 1:15 a.m.