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Richard Arnold: US leaders struggle to finalise deal amid looming shutdown threat - The Mike Hosking Breakfast

The Mike Hosking Breakfast

Congressional leaders struggled on Thursday to hammer out a major rescue package in the final days of the 116th Congress, raising the spectre that talks could drag out and potentially cause a brief government shutdown over the weekend.
With government funding set to expire Friday at midnight, lawmakers are now discussing the possibility of extending the shutdown deadline, again, to allow more time for negotiations to lock down a deal and push it through the House and Senate. The two issues are tied together since leaders want to tie the relief deal to a $1.4 trillion funding bill to keep the government open through next September.
Republican leaders have signalled they believe passing a stop-gap bill, or continuing resolution, to extend the deadline by an additional 48 hours may be necessary, but Democrats have shown little appetite for that approach and have suggested that Congress may be more likely to cut a deal quickly with lawmakers' backs to the wall.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune said Thursday it's possible a brief government shutdown could occur over the weekend because it could be difficult to pass a stopgap spending bill before the Friday deadline.
"I know people who are gonna object to that, that want to keep pressure on the process until we get a deal. So, it would take consent obviously to do a short-term CR," the South Dakota Republican told reporters Thursday.
On a conference call with Senate Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are pushing to get the deal done immediately.
"Chuck was very adamant about shooting for tomorrow at midnight," said Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
The holdup in finalizing a deal comes as lawmakers are working to sort out a number of outstanding issues, including whether and how long to extend the expiring federal eviction moratorium and whether there should be additional restrictions on eligibility for stimulus checks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday it's "highly likely" lawmakers will need to work through the weekend and if a stopgap bill to avert a shutdown is necessary he hopes the extension will be for just a "short window of time."
Unless things change quickly, final consideration of the massive legislative package could slip to the weekend or early next week.
The consensus on Capitol Hill is that there will be a relief deal after months of bickering and stalemate. But Congress is now stuck in a waiting game as the top four congressional leaders and the White House try to iron out the fine print and haggle over the final details.
Details of what's likely to be in the plan began to emerge on Wednesday, though nothing is final until legislative text is released.
The price tag could be close to $900 billion and it's expected to include money for vaccine distribution and for schools, jobless benefits of $300 per week, roughly $330 billion for small business loans, and a new round of stimulus checks, which could be set at around $600 per individual under a certain income threshold.
While the proposal is also expected to include a $90 billion fund administered by FEMA to provide to states and cities, it will not include a large pot of money for state and local governments that Democrats had demanded. It also won't include protections from lawsuits for businesses and others that opened up during the pandemic, a key GOP priority.
Once a deal is unveiled, congressional leaders will have to corral the rank-and-file and move as fast as possible to bring the legislation to the floor of both chambers.
What's in part driving the urgency: The Georgia Senate runoff races in January that will determine the next majority. On a phone call with his conference on Wednesday, McConnell noted multiple times how the issue of direct payments has become a major issue in the races.
"Kelly and David are getting hammered," McConnell said of his GOP colleagues, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Key outstanding issues...
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