Did Congress Finally Agree on a Stimulus Package?
After months of negotiations, partisan bickering, and dashed hopes, lawmakers in Washington seemed to be getting closer to passing a new relief bill for American workers, businesses, and communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But did they actually reach an agreement on the stimulus package that has been debated since last summer? Here`s what we know so far.
Background and context
As the pandemic spread across the United States in 2020, Congress approved several rounds of economic stimulus aimed at mitigating the health and financial impacts of the crisis. The most recent bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was signed into law by President Trump in March and provided over $2 trillion in aid, including direct payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits, small business loans, and funding for hospitals and schools.
However, many of the programs and benefits in the CARES Act expired or ran out of money by the end of the year, leaving millions of Americans struggling to pay bills, rent, and healthcare expenses. Since then, Democrats and Republicans have proposed various versions of a new stimulus package, but have failed to agree on key issues such as the size of direct payments, the scope of unemployment benefits, and the allocation of funds to state and local governments.
On December 21, 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill that included most of the provisions that had been discussed for months, but left out some controversial items such as liability protections for businesses and aid to struggling cities. The bill was part of a larger spending package that also funded the government through September 2021. However, President Trump refused to sign the bill, citing his objections to some of its provisions and demanding that direct payments be increased from $600 to $2000 per person.
On December 28, 2020, Congress reconvened to override Trump`s veto of the defense bill and to vote on the proposed increase in direct payments. The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed the bill by a wide margin, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, blocked it, citing concerns about the cost and the lack of targeted relief. This impasse continued for several days, as Democrats and some Republicans argued that the bill should include both the $2000 payments and targeted aid to small businesses and low-income families, while others insisted on a smaller bill focused on essential programs.
On December 31, 2020, a breakthrough seemed to occur, as a group of Senators from both parties unveiled a compromise bill that included $600 direct payments, $300 weekly unemployment benefits through March, $284 billion in small business loans and grants, and $25 billion in rental assistance. The bill also included some tax and regulatory provisions, such as a repeal of a rule that limited the deductibility of business meals, and a clarification of the tax treatment of forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans.
On January 6, 2021, Congress certified the electoral college results and Joe Biden was formally declared the winner of the presidential election. However, some Republican lawmakers, including Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz, challenged the results and called for an investigation into alleged voter fraud. This led to a violent insurrection at the Capitol, in which pro-Trump supporters stormed the building and disrupted the certification process. After the riot was suppressed, Congress resumed its work and eventually passed the stimulus bill on December 27, 2020.
While it took longer than expected and faced many hurdles along the way, Congress did reach an agreement on the stimulus package that will provide some relief to millions of Americans affected by the pandemic. As with any compromise, the bill does not satisfy everyone, and some advocates and analysts have criticized its size, scope, and timing. However, for those who are struggling to make ends meet or keep their businesses afloat, any help is better than none. As the new administration takes office and faces daunting challenges, the stimulus package may be just the first step towards a more comprehensive and sustainable recovery.