- Monday is the start of a brief session for Congress in which it could pass a new coronavirus stimulus bill.
- Both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have said they want Congress to cut a deal.
- Democrats and Republicans have for months fought over the details of funding packages of $US500 billion to more than $US2 trillion.
- Democrats have championed a comprehensive package with unemployment relief, while the GOP has favoured a smaller bill tightly focused on helping businesses.
- Another open question is whether to send another round of $US1,200 checks directly to Americans.
- Congress has little time to settle its differences, and a government shutdown looms.
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Congress is reconvening on Monday, presenting a chance to pass a stimulus bill to inject more cash into the US economy. But time is short.
Lawmakers are returning to Washington, DC, for a short session due to end before Christmas. They also have to use the time to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown on December 11.
Republicans and Democrats have for months been deadlocked over a new coronavirus relief bill, despite pressure from President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden to cut a deal.
The CARES Act in March authorised $US2 trillion in spending, but crucial parts of it expired in July.
The parties have since been at loggerheads, unable to bridge deep divides on how much spending to authorise and where to send it.
Democrats have proposed a $US2.2 trillion relief plan with a revival of the $US600 weekly unemployment benefit from the CARES Act, a second round of $US1,200 direct payments for Americans, aid for small businesses, and funding for state and local governments.
Republicans have proposed a smaller relief package, arguing that the economy is better than expected. In September, they unveiled a $US500 billion package that included small-business relief and public-health funding.
Trump repeatedly expressed support for a relief bill ahead of the November 3 election, though he has mentioned it less often as his focus turned to baselessly disputing his loss to Biden.
But in a tweet on November 14, he again called on Congress to pass a bill. “Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill. Needs Democrats support,” he wrote. “Make it big and focused. Get it done!”
Biden has called on Congress to act urgently and pass the Democrats’ relief bill. “Right now, Congress should come together and pass a COVID relief package like the Heroes Act that the House passed six months ago,” he tweeted on November 16.
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The Associated Press reported on Monday that key sticking points appeared to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “demand for state and local government aid” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “demand for a liability shield for businesses reopening during the pandemic.”
But it’s not just COVID-19 relief at stake in the so-called lame-duck session. The expiration of a funding bill on December 11 would lead to a government shutdown if the two parties can’t hammer out another government-funding agreement.
State authorities have also requested help to ensure that an ambitious vaccination program can be rolled out in the spring.