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Lawmakers, White House Strike $900B Deal For Virus Relief

By Stephen Cooper · December 20, 2020, 8:58 PM EST

House and Senate lawmakers agreed on roughly $900 billion in coronavirus relief late Sunday evening that could pass Congress quickly as part of legislation to keep the federal government open and provide more tax incentives for individuals and businesses.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sunday night. A deal on roughly $900 billion in federal coronavirus relief came after a week of intense negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House over the package's size and scope. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The deal announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came after a week of intense negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other congressional leaders over the size and scope of the package.

Lawmakers expected to pass a stopgap spending bill on Sunday night to keep the federal government operating an extra day while Congress works to draft and review the final legislation.

"We have reached agreement with Republicans and the White House on an emergency coronavirus relief and omnibus package that delivers urgently needed funds to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people as the virus accelerates," Pelosi said in a statement. "We are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people."

In a floor speech announcing the agreement, McConnell called it a "major rescue package" for the American people.

"If our citizens continue to battle the coronavirus this holiday season, they will not fight alone," he said. 

Many of the provisions in the agreement were based on the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020, a bipartisan proposal unveiled Dec. 14 by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other moderate legislators. It includes funding for distribution of the coronavirus vaccines, virus testing and health care workers.

Lawmakers have debated a follow-up relief bill since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was signed into law in March, but it wasn't until this week they abandoned provisions for more state and local funding and liability protections for businesses that had sidelined progress. Sunday, they were able to reach agreement on several thorny issues left over from the CARES Act.

The new agreement clarifies that business expenses paid for using tax-free loans made under the CARES Act's Paycheck Protection Program are tax deductible, according to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. He said Mnuchin objected to allowing deductibility but eventually backed down.

"Most people, when they got those PPP loans, had an expectation that they're going to be able to continue to deduct their business expenses and have operated accordingly," Thune told reporters.

The agreement includes more than $284 billion for additional PPP loans, expands the program to nonprofit organizations and makes it more accessible to small businesses, according to a summary provided by Pelosi.

The legislation would also authorize the Internal Revenue Service to send economic impact payments of $600 to individuals and $2,400 to a family of four, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters. The payments are less than those included in the CARES Act, which authorized amounts of $1,200 to individuals and $2,400 to couples, with payments phased out based on income levels.

It would also provide 11 weeks of enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits of $300 per week for jobless Americans, $13 billion in increased SNAP and child nutrition benefits and $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools.

The agreement would also boost the New Markets Tax Credit program by providing additional Treasury funding for community development financial institutions. Approximately $3 billion of the funding for CDFIs will be targeted to developments in low-income and minority communities.

It also includes $25 billion in tax-free rental assistance and expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to build and redevelop affordable housing. The agreement also expands the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit to workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The credit expansions would be based on 2019 income levels.

The agreement would also provide a tax credit for companies offering paid sick leave to workers and make improvements to the employee retention tax credit. 

It also includes provisions to extend clean energy tax credits, reform clean energy programs, enhance energy research and development and provide other energy efficiency incentives.

"The emergency relief in this agreement, the second largest in history only to the CARES Act, is an important first step" that Democrats hope to expand in 2020, Pelosi said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters he thought a majority of House Republicans would support the legislation.

The summary didn't include detailed information about the fate of the so-called tax extenders, a package of dozens of expiring, temporary tax incentives, but Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters that he thought the provisions would pass Congress as part of the pandemic relief and omnibus spending bill.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking Democrat on the tax panel, said the agreement would renew tax incentives for solar and wind power and makes permanent the tax incentives for energy efficient buildings.

The bill would also make permanent the excise tax break for craft brewers, vintners and distillers, Wyden said.

"I've seen firsthand how incentives for craft beverage producers have helped Oregon small businesses grow, hire and provide new benefits to their workers," he said in a statement.

--Editing by Robert Rudinger.



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