Negotiations over the next round of COVID-19 relief have been a roller coaster from the beginning. But the last week and a half have been exceptionally turbulent. With just a few working days left before Congress adjourns for the holidays and a partial government shutdown looming, optimism is low.
But according to Yahoo Money and a recent Politico report, there’s still hope.
This week, Congressional leaders met over the phone to hammer out a new deal. Following two days of meetings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hope lawmakers will reach a compromise.
McConnell, Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin convened via phone on Tuesday to finalize a relief package and finally put a months-long deadlock to rest.
“It’s not a done deal yet. But we are very close. For Democrats, this has always been about getting the American people the relief they need,” Schumer told fellow senators during a Wednesday speech on the Senate floor.
He expressed the need for Congress to manage the ongoing “emergency” state of the country after almost eight months without federal aid. “We Democrats would have liked to go considerably further.”
McConnell also seemed upbeat about the potential outcome on Wednesday. “We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that will be able to pass all chambers, with bipartisan majorities,” he said during his time on the Senate floor. “We’re committed to continuing these urgent discussions until we have an agreement.”
According to Politico, the stimulus bill Congress is working on comes in at $900 billion and pulls from the $748 billion offer outlined by a bipartisan coalition on Monday. It contains measures backed by Democrats and Republicans and more direct checks to Americans, which the last bilateral bill omitted.
However, the stimulus checks will be considerably smaller than the $1,200 allocated under the CARES Act last spring. During a private phone call between Senate Republicans on Wednesday, McConnell expressly connected the need for stimulus checks to Georgia’s upcoming special election, stating that “Kelly [Loeffler] and David [Perdue] are getting hammered,” several sources on the call told Politico.
The bill will also offer enhanced unemployment payments, though they will likely fall short of the initial $600 to curb the bill’s price tag. It would renew the deadline for two extended unemployment programs set to expire at the end of the month, more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), protections for renters, student loan forbearance, and money for continued vaccine development and distribution.
In a Monday interview with Yahoo Money, Gordon Gray, the director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, said, “The meeting signifies a good faith effort of negotiators to reach consensus before the holidays. That’s only been possible because they’ve been willing to compromise on issues that were bright lines in the past.”
The latest offer will most likely exclude two major sticking points from each party: financial aid for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses. The GOP has described the funding as a “blue state bailout,” while Democrats have referred to the liability shield as a “poison pill.”
The bipartisan group united these measures in a different proposal and included terms both sides of the aisle support in the $748 billion offer. When McConnell introduced the bill as a settlement last week, he told reporters, “What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local and pass those things that we can agree on. We’ll be back at this after the first of the year.”
Both pirates have stated that they might come back to work out another stimulus bill after the lame-duck session to pass the remaining measures. In response to McConnell, Schumer said last week, “The state and local funding provided by the state and local funding provisions have broad bipartisan support. Unlike the extreme corporate liability proposal.”
The Senate Minority leader reiterated his sentiment on Wednesday, saying, “Make no mistake, we will work in the future to provide additional relief, as the country requires, but we need to provide a platform to build on. We need to address this emergency right now.”
If lawmakers fail to approve another bill or if President Trump refuses to sign a proposal, as many as 12 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance at the end of the month. A host of other vital support measures, including a federal eviction moratorium, paid sick leave, and more, will also expire.
- Tsekova, Denitsa. “McConnell on Pandemic Relief: Let’s Agree to Stimulus but Avoid the 2 Big Sticking Points.” Yahoo!, Yahoo!, 8 Dec. 2020, money.yahoo.com/mc-connell-pandemic-relief-stimulus-bill-204033971.html.
- Tsekova, Denitsa. “’We’re Close to an Agreement,’ Schumer Says as Democratic and GOP Leaders near Finalizing a Stimulus Deal.” Yahoo!, Yahoo!, 16 Dec. 2020, money.yahoo.com/democratic-gop-leaders-near-finalizing-a-stimulus-deal-160515257.html.