Coronavirus stimulus update: Congress working on $900 billion relief plan

Congressional leaders closed in on a $900 billion coronavirus relief deal Wednesday as millions of struggling Americans wait for help.

The developing aid agreement would not include liability protections for businesses or aid to state and local government, CNBC confirmed. Disagreements over those two issues have blocked lawmakers from crafting a year-end rescue package.

"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, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday after a night of talks among the top four congressional leaders.

Speaking after McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said "we are close to an agreement" but noted "it's not a done deal yet." He added that Democrats "would like to have gone considerably further" to offer relief and will press for more aid after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

The measure would contain a direct payment to Americans in some amount, NBC News reported. In addition, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana told CNBC that the deal would have about $300 billion in Paycheck Protection Program small business loans, money for Covid-19 vaccine distribution and testing and relief for hospitals.

"I'm cautiously optimistic we're going to see this $900 billion package released today, and this will likely get passed before we go home this weekend," Daines told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday morning.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., arrives for the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in Hart Building on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Congress has rushed to find consensus on legislation to fund the government and rescue a health-care system and economy buckling under the pandemic. If lawmakers fail to act, the government will shut down on Saturday, 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas and millions more could face the threat of eviction.

Congress finally neared an emergency relief agreement after Tuesday night negotiations among McConnell, Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Republicans and Democrats had failed for months to make progress toward a bill that could get through a divided Congress. But they appeared to move close to an deal during their talks.

After the talks, McConnell and Schumer said they hoped to have an agreement "soon."

Politico first reported that congressional leaders were near a $900 billion deal. Parts of the bill appear to reflect a bipartisan plan released by rank-and-file lawmakers this week. However, that proposal did not include any direct payments.

The measure being developed by congressional leaders will contain stimulus checks to individuals which could come out to about $600 per person, according to NBC.

Congressional progressives have urged party leaders to include direct payments in any legislation. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., have also threatened to delay passage of a bill that does not include a second $1,200 deposit to most Americans.

At this stage, the Senate would likely need unanimous support to pass a bill quickly enough to meet the midnight Friday deadline. It remains to be seen how a potentially smaller stimulus check, or the exclusion of state and local government relief, would affect support of the legislation this week.

Lawmakers cannot send help soon enough for millions of Americans. The economy has taken a hit in the face of an unchecked coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 300,000 people in the U.S.

As millions still have not gained back jobs they lost at the start of the pandemic, long lines have formed at food banks around the country. Many Americans remain in their homes due to eviction moratoriums but lack the money to pay the rent they owe.

In addition, the distribution of Covid vaccinations — which started this week and gave Americans a glimmer of hope that the crisis could ease in the coming months — will rely on additional federal funding.

— CNBC's Ylan Mui contributed to this report

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