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Congress nears economic aid deal as critical deadlines approach

With the COVID-19 pandemic surging and some economic relief set to expire soon, Congress is nearing a deal on hundreds of billions of dollars in new aid. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to walk us through what's on the table.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the COVID-19 pandemic surging and some economic relief for ordinary Americans set to expire soon, Congress is finally nearing a deal on hundreds of billions worth of new aid.

    Lisa Desjardins is here to walk us through what is on the table.

    So, hello to Lisa — to you, Lisa.

    Tell us, what is the story? How close is Congress? Where do things stand right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They're closer. They're not there yet.

    Judy, we're facing what could be two of the most consequential weeks of this or recent Congresses in general. Congress will be working on a defense bill. That's going through this week.

    But let's talk about the other two big ones, the funding bill — there is a funding deadline coming up — and the COVID relief bill. This is crunch time.

    So, I'm going to break down where we stand. What it looks like will happen now is that government funding bill and the COVID relief bill will be put together into one bill combined. The deadline that's important here is for the government funding, which right now runs out at the end of Thursday.

    But Congress now is moving to punt that decision another week. They need more time to work out these deals. So, now the deadline is December 18, a week later.

    Judy, they're close on both of these things. But that final mile, as you know, is the toughest. They're not there yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what do we know about what would be in the COVID relief part of this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, one reason that we're seeing action now is because we're seeing more problems in this country.

    So, first, I want to go over the crises that we're dealing about — what they're trying to solve here. First, we know now that 58 percent of restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association, say that more layoffs and closures are imminent. Also, state governments are now saying furloughs are just around the corner, more budget cuts.

    And eviction and food relief help is set to run out December 31, as part of the previous CARES Act. So, what's happening now? We have got these bipartisan and bicameral, meaning House and Senate, groups that are trying to come up with a deal.

    Here's what's in that group, sometimes called the dinner group by a few members in it. They would add $300 of unemployment benefits for everyone who is on the jobless roll. They would also add $160 billion for state and local governments to help deal with those budget crises, and then, for food and rental assistance, $51 billion, Judy. And that's just some of it.

    But here's the thing. They have not worked out the deal on liability. That's something that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wants, liability essentially meaning that businesses couldn't be sued if workers became sick with the coronavirus. They're having a tough time and, in fact, meeting as you and I are speaking right now to try and figure out that that impasse over liability and lawsuits.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, what about the idea of direct payments to the neediest individuals? We know that was a feature of the original COVID relief bill that passed much earlier this year.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I get so many questions about this, so much interest.

    There is no talk of direct payments by members of Congress. The deal, Judy, is that that would add a large amount to the bottom line, something Republicans are uncomfortable with. And, in addition, it seems that that's something President Trump wanted more than anyone.

    With him having lost the election, it doesn't look like there's a lot of momentum inside Congress for that.

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