A $908 billion COVID-19 relief bill introduced by a bipartisan coalition earlier this week is in disarray following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statements that fellow GOP senators will reject $160 billion in state and local aid as a possible quid pro quo in the offer.
According to the Associated Press, The Kentucky senator condemned “controversial state bailouts” in a Thursday speech while calling for a more focused bill. His rejection poses a new problem for the bipartisan bill, following days of negotiations between both parties to find common ground.
Now, more Congressional backlogs jeopardize Congressional plans for Friday, which including approving a critical government funding measure. If this bill fails to pass, it will cause a partial government shutdown beginning Saturday.
But, as the Associated Press noted, deadlines have yet to motivate Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement, even as the country tops 3,000 virus-related deaths every day and hospitals struggle to keep up with new cases.
The House left Washington for a scheduled recess, though leaders told lawmakers to be ready to return to vote on the last-minute bills as the Senate prepares for an unusual Friday session.
The bipartisan package collapse occurs as President Trump has redirected negotiations by calling for another round of $600 direct payments.
The recent measure did not include stimulus checks, despite widespread support from the White House, Democrats, Republicans, and the American people. On Thursday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said an unprecedented event like the coronavirus pandemic requires “unprecedented action” from lawmakers.
Before the bilateral deal collapsed on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has led White House negotiations over the last few months, noted, “I think we’re making a lot of progress,” Mnuchin said.
A recent bill intended to delay the government shutdown by one week seems to have drained lawmakers’ sense of urgency. The temporary federal funding bill, which the House passed on Wednesday, must now get Senate approval before Friday at midnight to avoid the closure.
Congress would then have until December 18. Leaders from both chambers claim they will not recess until lawmakers approve more aid, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating she and other members would continue their efforts after Christmas to reach a consensus. “Now if we need more time then we take more time, but we have to have a bill and we cannot go home without it,” Pelosi said in a press release.
The bipartisan coalition held another online meeting Thursday night in an attempt to save the bill. Group members have worked tirelessly to close the gap concerning pandemic relief. Their stimulus package would provide funding for vaccine development and distribution, small businesses, schools, health care facilities, and Americans struggling to stay afloat.
Funding for state and local government and liability protections for businesses are the main sticking points between Democrats and Republicans. The coalition attempted to consolidate both items in their bill.
McConnell originally introduced a measure to provide organizations that reopen during the pandemic liability protections for five years, backdated to December 2019. However, the group was conserving a narrower version that would provide protections between six to 12 months. Labor groups and civil rights activists resist the measure, saying that it threatens essential workers’ rights.
House leaders had pushed for more funding for state and local governments but were willing to compromise on $160 billion. However, many GOP members perceive this aid as a blue state bailout, even as governors and mayors across the country appeal for support.
On Thursday night, Senator Dick Durbin, joined by other Democrats, proposed a different version of the liability shield to the bipartisan coalition, but according to an anonymous Senate aid, Republicans rejected it.
The White House, which has distanced itself from negotiations since the election, returned to the negotiating table with a $916 billion plan this week. This measure offers $600 stimulus checks but scraps the extra $300 weekly federal unemployment payments supported by Democrats and the bipartisan group.
McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy support the White House deal, despite McConnell initially calling for a $519 billion package that his party rejected twice. However, Democrats were quick to condemn the proposal after the Trump administration refused to include supplemental unemployment payments.
While not engaged directly in negotiations, President-elect Joe Biden has called for lawmakers to approve as much aid as possible. Republicans claim that the four Congressional leaders and the Trump administration are qualified to conduct the ultimate negotiations, with the attention on McConnell’s limited stop-gap bill.
- Taylir, Andrew, and Lisa Mascaro. “Stimulus Update: Emerging $900B COVID-19 Aid Package Has All but Collapsed.” 6abc Philadelphia, WPVI-TV, 11 Dec. 2020, 6abc.com/stimulus-update-covid-relief-900-billion-packge-collapse-600-dollar-check/8686137/.