Deal Nears On COVID Relief After Senators Clear Major Hurdle

Updated at 11:18 a.m. ET

Congressional lawmakers say they've cleared a major obstacle in their path to passing a $900 billion COVID relief package, with votes expected as soon as Sunday.

The latest standoff holding up a package both parties say is crucial for the American people centered on a GOP-backed provision led by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey that would curb the ability of the Federal Reserve to provide certain emergency loans.

Democrats had pushed back on Toomey, arguing that his provision would also prevent future treasury secretaries from restarting the lending programs.

But legislators say they reached a compromise on the issue late Saturday.

According to a senior Democratic aide, "compromise language" was being finalized late Saturday evening after hours of talks between Toomey and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The aide added: "A final agreement on an emergency relief package is significantly closer."

Toomey's office said in a statement Sunday morning that the "tentative agreement is an unqualified victory for taxpayers," adding that the deal "will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes."

The Democratic aide said that "Toomey has agreed to drop the broad language in his proposal that would have prevented the Fed Chair from establishing similar facilities in the future to the ones created [by the CARES Act] in March."

As he was leaving his office late Saturday night, Schumer forecasted a vote would take place in both chambers on Sunday.

"If things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way, we'll be able to vote tomorrow," he said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called Toomey's proposal the "big sticking point" in negotiations and that it was "resolved" on Saturday.

"I think it's going to get done. It'll get done before Christmas," he said of the deal Sunday morning on CNN's State of the Union.

Added Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on ABC's This Week: "The great news is: Congress is not going to be the Grinch. We're going to get this package done."

Romney also addressed the amount of direct payments to Americans, which had been an earlier point of contention in negotiations.

"The check is going to be roughly $600 a person," he said. "That will help, although I know people would like it to be a larger number."

As NPR's Kelsey Snell reported Saturday, congressional leaders said they had resolved nearly every other sticking point, from ironing out issues with food stamps and disaster funds to dropping months-long fights over state and local funding and liability reform.

Among its provisions, the package includes the direct payments to qualifying Americans, a boost in weekly unemployment benefits, and funds for small business aid and vaccine distribution.

Saturday's compromise came as the clock ticked down on a two-day stop-gap spending bill Congress approved Friday to enable lawmakers to try to finish negotiations.

Both Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had vowed to stay through the Christmas holiday if need be in order to get a relief package passed.

NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales contributed reporting.

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