Top Lawmakers Prepare For Last-Ditch Meeting Over Stimulus Package

Negotiations over the highly anticipated round of COVID-10 pandemic relief became increasingly embittered on Tuesday, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling on leading lawmakers for a crucial meeting.

According to a tweet from her office, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed the aid for over an hour. Mnuchin will accompany Pelosi and three other Congressional leaders during what the Associated Press referred to as a “make-or-break” phone call.

The flurry of activity in a short time frame might indicate that a consensus is on the horizon, although stimulus package negotiations have grown infamously contentious. 

It has been several months since Pelosi and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) convened. McConnell has held a tight reign over negotiations throughout negotiations. During the lame-duck session, he has pushed Democrats to eliminate a hotly contested provision that would provide $160 billion for states and local governments whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.

A growing number of Democrats seem to be willing to leave out this vital provision until another opportunity arises in the future. During her Monday phone call with Mnuchin, Pelosi urged the Treasury Secretary to support cash-strapped states and cities. But leading Democratic supporters of President-elect Joe Biden emerged to back a $748 billion package outlined by a bilateral coalition and suggested they won’t push to include the funding.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This should not be Congress’ last COVID relief bill, but it is a strong compromise that deserves support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate,” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) stated. “We cannot leave for the holidays without getting relief to those Americans who need it.”

Coons’ statement and one from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), occurred as a bipartisan group proposed an extensive pandemic relief bill with the belief that it would be a framework for entrenched Congressional leaders as they hash out a plan.

However, the coalition failed to find middle ground on hot-button Republican measures such as liability protections for businesses that reopen during the pandemic. McConnell has stated he would leave the effort alone if Democrats rescind the $160 billion for state and local aid.

On Tuesday, McConnel remarked, “We can live to fight another day on what we disagree on. But we ought to go forward with what we can agree on.”

Throughout the last months of negotiations, Pelosi has pledged that an aid deal for states and cities would be included in a stimulus package. However, the holiday recess is around the corner, and many of her fellow party members are reluctant to obstruct an entire bill over one measure. 

On Monday, a group of Democrats appeared during a bipartisan press briefing to publicly support the $748 billion deal. “We’re not going home until this is done,” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) told CNN the following morning. “We’ve got to get people a lifeline. It will pass — the $748 (billion).”

The bipartisan deal includes funds for small businesses, jobless Americans, education, vaccine development, and distribution. Additionally, it contains $45 billion to bolster transportation and transit, rural internet services, the Postal Service, and more. The second offer introduced $160 billion for state and local aid and a revised liability protection measure, though it’s unlikely that it will be included.

The most significant division between Congressional lawmakers includes another round of stimulus checks, $300 supplemented unemployment payments, state and local funding, and liability protections.

Besides stimulus negotiations, Congress has also been pressed to approve a federal funding bill to avoid a partial government shutdown. However, it remains uncertain if lawmakers will act fast enough to agree on something before Friday.

If negotiations are delayed further, more stopgap legislation may be necessary. According to a congressional aid, talks over the $1.4 trillion funding measure are “essential finished.” Although details are still vague, the staffer noted that “the status quo is prevailing.” In other words, President Trump would have $1.4 billion to continue funding the border wall between the US and Mexico.

The weeks leading up to Inauguration Day will be lawmakers’ final opportunity to tie up any loose ends. But considering that negotiations have hit a roadblock at almost every point, many wonder if Congress will succeed.

Pelosi has not given up on securing funding for states and cities, a key provision in the CARES Act. When Congress approved the bill last March, it contained $150 billion in funding, which no one contested. However, the GOP staunchly opposes the aid now, although most of it would go to smaller cities and towns that did not receive assistance in the spring.

 

Source
  • Taylor, Andrew. “Second Stimulus Check Updates: Talks Escalate on Long-Delayed COVID-19 Aid Package, Top Lawmakers to Meet.” Chicagotribune.com, Chicago Tribune, 15 Dec. 2020, www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-nw-second-coronavirus-stimulus-check-updates-20201215-3cafcnwkozc4diwyjhitkcn24e-story.html.
Ian Schindler