Coronavirus stimulus talks set to slip into weekend in Washington as hurdles remain

With agreement elusive on another big coronavirus aid deal, Congress is ready to do what Congress often does – push its deadline back.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned on the Senate floor Thursday that it was “highly likely” lawmakers will need to stay beyond Friday and work into the weekend. Because Friday is also the expiration date for a temporary government funding bill, it had been seen as the drop dead date for an aid bill as well.

“If we need to further extend the Friday funding deadline before final legislation can pass in both chambers, I hope we’ll extend it for a very, very short window of time,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s chief lieutenant, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, separately told reporters on Capitol Hill an extension would probably be needed. “I hope it wouldn’t be more than, you know, 24 or 48 hours,” he said.

Democrats appeared less eager to extend the deadline, even as they acknowledged it may be necessary.

“I can guarantee that we’ll get a deal done. I can’t guarantee how soon that’s going to be,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said on “CNN Newsroom.”

Hoyer said it may take some time to convert a deal once reached into legislative text that can be voted on, but he still preferred to act by Friday, if possible. “If we can get that done, I’d like to put it on the floor tomorrow, even if it’s late tomorrow into the evening hours,” he said.

The COVID-19 aid bill, which would be attached to a final funding bill for to keep the government’s lights on through September 2021, is expected to include another round of direct payments to households, though they would be only about half the size of the $1,200 payments in the spring.

It is also likely to include another round of the small business lending Paycheck Protection Program and an extension of pandemic unemployment benefits with a revived federal add-on payment to jobless checks of $300 a week.

But the details of those programs appeared to be fluid as Friday draws closer. Thune said one sticking point was who should get the direct payments.

“I think what I’m suggesting is income sort of benchmarks and figuring out ways of, I would say, narrowing the number of people who would get the benefit of the check to those who need it the most,” he told reporters.

The initial checks in March’s CARES Act began phasing out at an individual adjusted gross income level of $75,000, with those with incomes over $99,000 ineligible for any payment.

Hoyer said Democrats were concerned over how much would be provided for federal food assistance to the poor, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In a proposal by a bipartisan group of senators unveiled Monday, SNAP assistance amounts would be increased by 15% for four months and the program extended to U.S. territories, though it’s unclear if that provision is in the deal being negotiated by congressional leaders.

“For me, it’s hard to understand why that’s a sticking point when we see lines of people who never expected to be in a food line in their entire lives, are there because they want to feed their children and themselves. We ought to be acting,” Hoyer said.

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