Klobuchar, Emmer expect $900 billion stimulus soon, including direct checks

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer don't agree on much, but both expect Congress to pass a stimulus package over the weekend or early next week.

Appearing at a virtual forum hosted by the Economic Club of Minnesota, the lawmakers said they thought the final deal would be about $900 billion. Klobuchar said it would include another round of direct checks, a boost to unemployment benefits, and an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses.

"I think we’re making big progress," Klobuchar said after meetings with senators in both parties earlier in the day. "I think we need to do this for the American people." 

Congress appeared to be racing toward a deal Wednesday, but progress slowed Thursday. Lawmakers are trying to attach a stimulus package to a must-pass resolution funding the government, which is needed to avoid a government shutdown this weekend.

Congress has been stalled for months over the aid package, even as the coronavirus pandemic has raged across the country this fall and into the early winter. More than 300,000 Americans are now dead, and millions are out of work because the pandemic-fueled recession.

Klobuchar said the direct checks would be smaller than the $1,200 payments sent out in the spring. Any new payment appears to be in the $600 range.

The stimulus package will also include a $300 federal bump to unemployment benefits, on top of benefits provided by states. Klobuchar said it was unclear how long the boost would last, but expected it to be three to four months.

She said the bill will also include $325 billion for businesses, including an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program to keep workers on the payroll instead of laying them off. Funding will also be directed at some hardest-hit businesses, such as performing arts venues, Klobuchar said.

Emmer said he thought a stimulus package could pass by the weekend.

"There were hundreds of outstanding items a few days ago. there’s just a handful of outstanding items right now," said Emmer, who is a member of Republican leadership as the chairman of the House GOP's campaign arm.

The two lawmakers said the final bill would not include aid for state or local governments, which had been a Democratic priority and pushed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz as a way to fund the state's coronavirus response. Republicans view such an aid package as a bailout to states.

The stimulus also will not include a liability shield for businesses, protecting owners if someone is infected with COVID-19 inside their building. That had been a Republican priority for inclusion in the package.

Negotiators are planning to include funding for broadband expansion, vaccine distribution and hospitals, Klobuchar said.

The package will also have payments to farmers and more assistance for renters, Emmer said.