The bill was passed by both houses of Congress on December 21, 2020, with large bipartisan majorities in support. The bill was the product of weeks of intense negotiations and compromise between Democrats and Republicans during the lame-duck session. After initially criticizing the bill, President Donald Trump signed it into law on December 27.
Following the approval of some $2.5trillion in stimulus in March and April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cautioned against any further spending.[a] From then until mid-October, Republicans and Democrats proposed a series of prospective bills, with support mostly along party lines, and each side voicing criticism of the other party's inclusion of special interests. In September, a non-pandemic-related spending bill was passed to avoid a government shutdown, allowing Congress to focus on a separate relief bill. On November 4, McConnell spoke in favor of passing stimulus during the lame-duck session in November and December. Two days later, Larry Kudlow, the director of President Donald Trump's National Economic Council, indicated that, like McConnell, the Trump administration was interested in a targeted package smaller than $2–3trillion.
On December 1, McConnell implied that some form of relief would come in the spending bill for the fiscal year of 2021. The next day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer endorsed a $908billion bipartisan plan.[b] A number of Republican senators subsequently endorsed it, with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying he had discussed it "extensively" with Trump.
On December 8, Mnuchin presented a $916billion counter-proposal, which Pelosi and Schumer called "unacceptable" because it reduced funding for unemployment insurance from $180billion to $40billion, in exchange for a one-time $600 direct payment for adults and children.[c]
On December 11, a one-week stopgap spending bill was signed into law to allow more time to negotiate stimulus.
The next week, two controversial measures from both parties were moved into a separate $160billion bill called the Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020. This bill included the Democrat's request for more state and local government aid, and the Republican's request for a strong COVID lawsuit liability shield for businesses.
Senator Josh Hawley(R-MO) and Senator Bernie Sanders(I-VT) planned to bring to vote on December 18 a proposal for direct payments of the same amount provided by the CARES Act ($1,200 per adult making less than $75,000 annually and $500 per child), but this was blocked by Senator Ron Johnson(R-WI).
On December 18, a 48-hour stopgap bill was passed to keep the government funded through the weekend, with a one-day stopgap bill passed to prolong voting until that Monday, December 21.
At the request of Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), the bill was modified to require congressional approval of future emergency lending through the Fed, and to rescind about $429billion in unused CARES Act funding.
In order to pass the bill more quickly, Congress used H.R. 133, previously the United States-Mexico Economic Partnership Act, as a legislative vehicle, amending the bill to contain its current text.
During the last few days, logistical challenges arose as the bill, which consisted of some 5,500 pages of text, proved difficult to physically assemble due to printer malfunctions and a corrupted computer file. The file, representing the education portion of the bill, posed a problem in that all portions had to be combined into one overall file. Senator John Thune (R-SD) remarked, "Unfortunately, it's a bad time to have a computer glitch." The delays meant that the two votes in Congress were delayed late into the evening of December 21.
Several members of both parties voiced unhappiness with such a large bill being presented to them with little time to understand what was inside it. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY) wrote, "It's not good enough to hear about what's in the bill. Members of Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on," and compared the process to "hostage-taking", while Representative Michael Burgess(R-TX) said, "This is a tough way to legislate, to save everything til the very end and then pass a very large bill." Senator Ted Cruz(R-TX) tweeted that the whole process was "ABSURD".
Congress passes the bill
On the evening of December 21 the votes were held, with large, bipartisan majorities supporting them. The bill was split into two parts in the House, with one portion passing 327–85 and another portion 359–53. The first vote, which included funding for federal agencies, was opposed by 41 Democrats and 43 Republicans. The stimulus portion was in the latter vote, and was supported by Democrats by a 230–2 margin and Republicans by a 128–50 margin (two independents made up the rest). Following that, there was a single vote in the Senate, which passed 92–6.
Also on the night of December 21, Trump signed a weeklong stopgap bill through December 28, avoiding a shutdown while the 5,593-page legislation was being processed. It was the biggest bill ever passed by Congress in terms of length of text. On December 24, Congress began the official process of sending the bill to Trump.
In a video released on the evening of December 22, a day after the bill's passage, Trump indicated his dissatisfaction with the bill, calling it a "disgrace" and criticizing it for including what he called "wasteful and unnecessary" spending (Trump complained about the inclusion of funds for foreign aid, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Kennedy Center) and not enough pandemic relief,[d] calling the $600 individual payments "ridiculously low". Trump's last-minute statement shocked Congress and surprised and embarrassed administration officials, including Mnuchin, who was heavily involved in the negotiations. In the video, Trump complained about various spending line items in the bill for not being related to COVID-19, but these expenditures were part of the regular annual (fiscal year 2021) appropriations, not the COVID-19 stimulus portion of the bill. Moreover, the budget items that Trump complained about were part of Trump's own budget proposal for the year, and were similar to budget provisions in previous budgets signed by Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that, if Trump vetoed the bill, the Senate was prepared to convene on December 29 for an override vote.
On the night of December 22, Trump asked Congress to send him a version of the bill with $2,000 rather than $600 individual payments. House Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled Democratic support of this change, while Senate Minority Leader Schumer encouraged Trump to sign the current bill, stating that "we're glad to pass more aid" at a later date. If no agreement can be reached, the government may shut down, and according to Trump, "the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package and maybe that administration will be me". It was speculated that Trump might use a pocket veto.
The president left for his Mar-a-Lago estate on December 23, leaving his intentions unclear. On December 24, House Democrats tried to pass, by unanimous consent, legislation to increase the size of the stimulus checks to $2,000, but House Republicans blocked the proposed increase. Many figures in both parties urged Trump to sign the bill, and planned fallback strategies to keep the government open in case he did not.
Two kinds of pandemic relief payments, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, expired on the morning of December 27. On the evening of December 27, after coming under heavy pressure from Democrats and Republicans, Trump signed the bill into law without his demands being met. Upon signing the bill, Trump released a statement containing various false statements and grievances. Trump indicated that he would create "a redlined version" of the bill accompanied by a "formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill." Congress is not expected to act on this request. Trump's delay of nearly a week in signing the bill held up $900billion in emergency relief funds, and because he did not sign the bill a day earlier, millions of Americans enrolled in unemployment programs are unlikely to receive a payment for the final week of 2020.
On December 28, the House passed the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act (CASH Act), a standalone bill to increase direct payments to $2,000 for those who make under $75,000 annually. It would phase out for those who make up to $115,000. Projected to cost $464billion, the House passed the bill by just over the two-thirds majority vote necessary, under a suspension of the rules.
On December 29, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer moved to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Later that day, McConnell introduced legislation combining increased payments with two other Trump demands: a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which the president had wanted to include in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021), and the establishment of a voter fraud study commission.[e] McConnell later claimed that Trump had requested these items to be tied to the stimulus checks, but there is no record of this. Senator Chris Murphy(D-CT) has cautioned against sinking the $2,000 stimulus checks with "poison pills". On December 31, Schumer again tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, which was again blocked by McConnell. Schumer suggested voting on the president's other two requests separately.
On December 30, McConnell criticized the CASH Act for failing to adequately phase out higher-income earners.[f] Bernie Sanders (with Josh Hawley's backing) tried to force a roll-call vote on the law by filibustering a vote to override Trump's veto of the 2021 defense bill. On January 1, Schumer again called for a vote on $2,000 stimulus checks but was blocked by a Republican senator—ending prospects for the act to be approved by the 116th Congress. On January 6, Schumer said the $2,000 payments were a top priority for him in the 117th Congress. President-elect Joe Biden also supports increasing the payments to $2,000.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 is Division M of the legislation, and Division N contains additional coronavirus provisions. It is a follow-on to such actions as the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program passed in the spring of 2020, and comes after eight months of mostly little progress in negotiations between the different parties and houses of Congress. Many of the negotiations made little progress due to strongly held policy differences being contested. The incumbent president, having lost his bid for re-election, generally played little role in the later stages of the discussions.
The pandemic relief portion of the bill was estimated at about $900billion by the Associated Press. On January 14, the Congressional Budget Office released its scoring with Division M as $184billion and Division N as $682billion, for a total of $866billion with their breakdowns. The Associated Press' estimates were:
$325billion for small businesses
$284billion in forgivable loans via the Paycheck Protection Program[g]
$20billion for businesses in low-income communities
$15billion for economically endangered live venues, movie theaters and museums
$120billion for an extension of increased federal unemployment benefits ($300 per week until March 14, 2021)
$82billion for schools and universities, including $54billion to public K-12 schools, $23billion for higher education; $4billion to a Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund; and slightly under $1billion for Native American schools
$13billion round of direct payments to the farming and ranching industry, including
About $5billion for payments of $20 per acre for row crop producers, which (according to an American Farm Bureau Federation analysis) would go to producers of corn ($1.8billion), soybeans ($1.7billion), wheat ($890million), and cotton ($240million).
Up to $1billion for livestock and poultry farmers, plus certain "plus-up" payments for cattle producers
$470million for dairy producers, plus additional $400million for the USDA to purchase milk for processing into dairy products for donation to food banks
$60million for small meat and poultry processors
$10billion for child care (specifically, the Child Care Development Block Grant program)
The legislation also extends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-imposed eviction moratorium (halting evictions for failure to pay rent for tenants with annual incomes of less than $99,000) to January 31, 2021; the moratorium had initially been set to expire at the end of 2020.
The regular annual appropriations bills comprise Divisions A through L of the bill, and totals about $1.4trillion. Among these provisions are:
Division J - Military construction and veterans affairs
$243billion in mandatory and discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (including advance appropriations from the preceding year). VA funding increased by almost 12% from the previous fiscal year. VA appropriations include $10.3 billion for veterans' mental health (including $312 million specifically for suicide prevention), $3.2billion to address the Veterans Benefits Administration backlog of disability claims, $16billion for MISSION Act community care, $2.6billion for VA electronic health record modernization, $1.9 billion for programs addressing veteran homelessness, and $1.2billion for the Caregivers Program. The act also provides $130 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal year 2022 to ensure continuity of VA funding and prevent a future partial government shutdown from affecting the VA.
Appropriations for military construction declined 28% from the prior fiscal year.
Division K - State and foreign operations
The act appropriated $55.5 billion for the Department of State, foreign operations, related programs, and the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. This was an increase from the amount appropriated in the previous fiscal year, but lower than the bills approved by the House and Senate. The act also included funding for the U.S. contribution to the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a goal of global health advocates. The foreign aid appropriations are an increase of about 1%.
$16.68 billion for State Department operations
$8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds
$7.8 billion for humanitarian and disaster assistance
$3.4 billion for the development assistance account
$60.3billion in budget authority for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ($49.6billion from discretionary appropriations, $10.7billion from offsetting receipts), representing "an increase of $3.8billion in programmatic funding" from FY2020 and $12.3billion more than Trump's budget request. Congress rejected Trump's proposal to eliminate all funding for the Public Housing Capital Fund, HOME, Community Development Block Grant, and Choice Neighborhoods programs.
Divisions O through Z and AA through FF contains additional legislation (called "authorizing matters") unrelated to coronavirus relief and annual appropriations. Additionally, the appropriations provisions of the bill contain various policy riders. The addition of such provisions to omnibus spending legislation ("loading up the Christmas tree") is common toward the end of a congressional session. Among these are:
Incorporation of the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act, requiring in-person age verification when online purchases of e-cigarette and vaping products are delivered
Incorporation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, establishing national safety standards for the horse racing industry, in a bid to combat horse doping—a subject of scandal in preceding years
A ban on most surprise medical billing—unexpected, and sometimes large, bills from out-of-network providers that are charged to patients. The ban, which goes into effect in 2022, will require out-of-network providers to negotiate with insurers to obtain compensation, rather than billing insured patients directly. The ban on surprising billing will apply to physicians, hospitals, and air ambulances, but does not apply to ground ambulances. The ban on surprise billing had broad public support; a similar provision nearly passed in 2019, but was blocked amid health providers and the private-equity firms that own many of them.
A tax deduction for corporate meal expenses; inclusion of this provision was pushed by Trump and administration officials, but was criticized by many House Democrats who referred to it as a needless "three-martini lunch" tax break, as well as by economists across the political spectrum. During negotiations, Democrats ultimately agreed to include the deduction in exchange for Republicans' agreement to the expansion of tax crs for the working poor and low-income families.
a phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs), a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change; the measure will decrease HFC usage by 85% over 15 years, to avert what would otherwise be an additional 0.5°C of global warming
extending various energy efficiency tax incentives through 2021
Economists projected that the relief act (in conjunction with the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines) would have a stimulative effect and would strengthen U.S. economic recovery in the second half of 2021, but came too late to avert a struggling economy in the first half of 2021. An analysis by economists Adam Hersh and Mark Paul, commissioned by the Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive think tank, concluded that Congress would need to enact a near-term stimulus about four times larger in order to obtain a full recovery.
The bill's omission of grants to state and local governments, which are struggling with budget shortfalls, was criticized by economists, who noted that the lack of revenue would lead to state and local governments eliminating jobs and raising taxes.
Economists stated that the $25billion in rental assistance programs allocated by the bill were insufficient to prevent a looming eviction crisis.
^On May 11, McConnell revealed that he was "in constant communication with the White House and if we decide to go forward we'll go forward together".
^This initially planned $288 billion in small business aid, $160 billion to state and local governments, $180 billion for $300 weekly unemployment benefits until March, $82 billion for education, $45 billion for transportation, and $16 billion for vaccines and testing. It would also provide temporary liability protections to give states time to develop their own policies.
^On December 13, Trump stated that "I want to see checks ... for more money than they're talking about going to people." On December 17, White House aids reportedly stopped from him from publicly asking Congress to increase direct payments in the current negotiations to between $1,200 and $2,000.
^Fox News's Fox & Friends, a favorite program of the president, had that morning criticized the bill's large number of unexpected items that were not directly related to government funding or pandemic relief. A Fox News article from December 23 speculates that the president may have gotten confused between provisions of the pandemic relief and those of the omnibus package.
^In the wake of his loss in the 2020 election, Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims of fraud and demanded "an investigation".
^McConnell has previously floated the possibility of a stimulus check for families who make less than $40,000 annually.
^The New York Times notes that some businesses will profit from a "double dip" into this program, as they can report the extra money as a tax write-off.
^Reduced payments will be provided for those who make up to $87,000 annually. Income is based on 2019 tax reporting. Adult dependents do not qualify.
^This is not actually an "amendment" or a specific piece of legislation. Prohibitions against funding abortions are scattered throughout the bill in multiple different divisions.
^Mike Calia (December 22, 2020). "Trump calls Covid relief bill unsuitable and demands Congress add bigger stimulus payments". CNBC. Trump also said that if Congress doesn’t deliver the relief package he wants, it will be left to the next administration. "And maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done," he said. Trump lost to Biden in November’s election. Still, the president has continued to falsely insist that he actually won the election, and that he was the victim of widespread voter fraud.