Personal checks back in the mix as Congress drives toward coronavirus financial aid deal

Advocates of a second round of direct financial aid checks to households may get their wish as talks among congressional leaders on an overall aid package go down to the wire in Washington on Wednesday.

Capitol Hill’s Big Four – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy – met late into the night on Tuesday night to try to hammer out an agreement.

While they didn’t succeed, both sides said progress was made and they would continue talks Wednesday. According to reports, there is agreement, though, to include a second round of direct stimulus checks to households.

Politico reported a deal could be wrapped up as soon as Wednesday morning, with the checks bringing the total close to $900 billion. Separately, NBC News said the checks would total about $600 per person, down from the $1,200 per household in March’s CARES Act.

A second round of checks has support from across the political divide. Late Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a high-profile House Democratic freshman, tweeted her support, saying she would not vote for a package without them.

“It’s a red line. It’s also common sense,” she tweeted.

Ocasio-Cortez’s stance followed an unlikely alliance last week by liberal Vermont Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders and conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who jointly supported another round of checks.

More money for households could help keep the economy from stalling out as it faces another onslaught of COVID-19 cases that will drive down economic activity. Retail sales dipped 1.1% in November, the government said Wednesday, in the latest sign the U.S. economy is pulling back.

Lawmakers face a deadline of Friday to pass a massive bill to fund the government through next year, a bill that a coronavirus aid deal would be attached to. To meet that deadline, lawmakers need to have legislative text to vote on soon, in order to give the Senate time to have a vote before the funding runs out on Friday.

A bipartisan aid package put forward by senators Monday totaling $748 billion and including a revival of many of the provisions in the CARES Act drew praise from Republicans as having elements that could show up in a final pact. That proposal, though, did not include direct checks.

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