“The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong, and I think that’s widely understood right now,” he said. “Now that we can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would be bad to see people losing their business, their life’s work, even generations’ worth of work.”
Even as negotiations continued, there was evidence of economic harm the worsening pandemic was causing. Retail sales fell 1.1 percent in November, the Commerce Department reported, with restaurants and bars experiencing even bigger declines as states reimposed business restrictions.
Other measures of economic activity have likewise slowed in recent weeks, and applications for unemployment benefits have surged. For the millions of Americans already relying on jobless benefits, the situation could be even more dire if two programs that expand and extend the unemployment insurance system expire after next week without congressional action.
Republicans have continued to insist that a package should remain under $1 trillion in order to maintain support within their ranks, leaving lawmakers and staff to wrangle over funding levels for various provisions and programs in the new measure. Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer spoke with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, for about 45 minutes on Wednesday as they worked to hammer out final details.
The measure, which builds off a $748 billion bill proposed by a bipartisan group of moderates this week, is expected to include $25 billion to establish a program that would provide emergency rental assistance to families affected by the pandemic, as well as billions for vaccine development and distribution, broadband and schools across the country.
Negotiators were still discussing the possible inclusion of House legislation that provides funds to distribute to states and cities and to fully cover the costs of emergency work during the pandemic. They were also still haggling over an expansion and extension of unemployment benefits and how long they would last. The agreement is expected to revive lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits at about $300 a week, half of the original benefit approved in March, which lapsed over the summer. But Republicans were insisting on curtailing the number of weeks of benefits to help offset the cost of providing stimulus payments.
In addition to the jobless aid, the plan would provide a one-time direct payment to Americans, expected to be about $600 per person, also half the amount provided under the March stimulus law.