U.S. congressional negotiators neared a $900 billion deal to address COVID-19

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U.S. congressional negotiators neared a $900 billion deal to address COVID-19, including direct payments to Americans but no financial aid for states and cities and no liability protections for businesses, according to media reports on Wednesday.

The potential agreement could come as early as later on Wednesday morning, according to Politico and the Washington Post, which both cited multiple sources involved in or briefed on the ongoing talks.

Unemployment benefits would also be extended as part of the package, the reports said.

Reported progress on a relief bill comes after leaders in Congress on Tuesday said they had made substantial progress toward finalizing relief in late-night talks aimed at addressing the pandemic’s heavy human and economic toll, and funding the federal government to avert a government shutdown.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the $900 billion figure.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been urging this approach, leaving out the local aid touted by Democrats and a liability shield pushed by Republicans that are the two most contentious items on the table.

With pressure building on Congress to deliver more help for a nation suffering under a resurgent pandemic, McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy met twice on Tuesday with Democratic counterparts House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in rare face-to-face negotiating sessions between Congress’ top leaders.

The surge of infections and hospitalizations continues to strain the healthcare systems to the brink of collapse with 304,187 U.S. deaths and 16.7 million infections, according to a Reuters tally. On Tuesday, the country saw 3,102 deaths – the third highest total since the pandemic began.[L1N2IW0L3]

It was not immediately clear how much individuals would receive as part of the direct payments, but Politico reported it would likely be far less than the $1,200 per person offered up in an earlier bipartisan proposal in order to contain the legislation’s costs. The Post also said the payments could be lower.

Democratic negotiators also said other aid to states would be included in the bill but gave no other details, Politico said.

Top congressional leaders left talks on Tuesday without announcing a deal but said they were optimistic and moving in the right direction. The group included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.