US Congress passes 2-day stopgap funding bill to avert govt shutdown

The US Congress has passed a two-day stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown and provide more time for lawmakers to negotiate on a much-awaited coronavirus relief package, as many Americans are set to lose pandemic relief benefits by the end of the year.

On Friday, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the bill known as a continuing resolution by a vote of 320-60, reports Xinhua news agency.

The Republican-majority Senate also passed the measure by a voice vote to extend the government funding deadline from December 18 to December 20.

Friday’s development came almost a week after President Donald Trump had signed a one-week stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government open through December 18.

Negotiators from both sides are still trying to secure a broader agreement that would include the 12 fiscal 2021 bills and fund the government until October 1, 2021.

Following the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that negotiators were closing in on an agreement.

“I think we’re very close to getting an agreement. I think two more days, it allows the time to get it done and allow time for people to read,” The Hill news website quoted McCarthy as saying.

On Wednesday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers had also announced that they have made progress in negotiations on the long-awaited coronavirus relief deal.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled a two-part $908 billion 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 totalling $748 billion, and another piece that provides $160 billion to state and local governments with pandemic-related liability protections.

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 per adult approved by Congress in The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March.

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.

As of Saturday morning, the virus, which originated in China a year ago, has infected a total of 17,442,180 Americans and killed 313,246 others, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The two tallies are the highest in the world, making the US the hardest-hit country by the pandemic.