U.S. lawmakers make headway toward long-awaited COVID-19 relief deal

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) — U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have made progress in the negotiations on the long-awaited next round of COVID-19 relief, with leaders on both sides announcing progress on Wednesday.

“We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

“The American people need more help. We need vaccine distribution money. We need to re-up the Paycheck Protection Program to save jobs. We need to continue to provide for laid-off Americans,” the Republican leader said in a tweet.

“Congressional leaders on both sides are going to keep working until we get it done,” McConnell added.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the chamber, also said on Wednesday that “we are close to an agreement,” while noting that “it’s not a done deal yet.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled a two-part 908-billion-U.S.-dollar COVID-19 relief package, as many Americans are set to lose pandemic relief benefits by the end of 2020.

The relief package includes a bill that outlines a wide range of relief spending totaling 748 billion dollars, and another piece that provides 160 billion dollars to state and local governments with COVID-19-related liability protections.

According to a report by The Hill, which cited sources familiar with the talks, Senate and House leaders are closing in on a relief deal that is based largely on a 748-billion-dollar relief bill plus a new round of stimulus checks, but will leave out the 160 billion in funding for state and local governments as well as liability protection for businesses.

More aid to state and local governments, demanded by Democrats, and liability protections for businesses, sought by Republicans, have been key sticking points in the relief talks.

The amount of the new stimulus checks will be lower than the payments of up to 1,200 dollars per adult approved by the Congress in The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March, the report said.

Amid COVID-19 spikes, U.S. economic recovery seems to be losing momentum, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been deadlocked for months over the size and scope of the next round of relief package.

Economists, as well as Federal Reserve officials, have repeatedly argued that more fiscal relief is needed to sustain the economic recovery, warning of dire consequences if further fiscal support is not provided in time.

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