Washington: Congress passed a two-day stopgap spending bill Friday night, averting a partial government shutdown and buying yet more time for frustratingly slow endgame negotiations on an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package.
The virus aid talks remained on track, both sides said, but closing out final disagreements was proving difficult. Weekend sessions were on tap, and House leaders hoped for a vote on Sunday on the massive package, which wraps much of Capitol Hill's unfinished 2020 business into a take-it-or-leave-it behemoth that promises to be a foot thick _ or more.
The House passed the temporary funding bill by a 320-60 vote. The Senate approved it by voice vote almost immediately afterward, and President Donald Trump signed it late Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said both sides remain intent on closing the deal, even as Democrats launched a concerted campaign to block an effort by Republicans to rein in emergency Federal Reserve lending powers. The Democrats said the GOP proposal would deprive President-elect Joe Biden of crucial tools to manage the economy.
Negotiations continued into Friday night but an agreement wasn't likely before Saturday, lawmakers and aides said. House lawmakers were told they wouldn't have to report to work on Saturday but that a Sunday session was likely. The Senate will be voting on nominations.
The $900 billion package comes as the pandemic is delivering its most fearsome surge yet, killing more than 3,000 victims per day and straining the nation's health care system. While vaccines are on the way, most people won't get them for months. Jobless claims are on the rise.
Most economists, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell, strongly support additional economic stimulus as necessary to keep businesses and households afloat through what is widely anticipated to be a tough winter. Many forecast the economy could shrink in the first three months of 2021 without more help. Standard & Poor's said in a report Tuesday that the economy would be 1.5 percentage points smaller in 2021 without more aid.