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Bipartisan COVID-19 stimulus plan seeks to finish all-or-nothing deal


A bipartisan COVID-19 stimulus proposal unveiled Tuesday seeks to end a long-running Capitol Hill stalemate on pandemic relief, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that Republicans agree to a massive all-or-nothing deal.

The $908 billion bipartisan proposal was unveiled by five Senate Democrats alongside Senate Republicans and House members of both parties.

“Today is a victory for the American people and a victory for common sense,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) at a press conference unveiling the plan. “It builds upon President Trump’s commitment to get something done.”

The proposal would partially revive at $300 per week a federal unemployment supplement, down from $600 a week before it expired, and would add $288 billion in new small-business Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans.

The plan also calls for $45 billion for airlines and struggling mass-transit systems, $160 billion for state and local governments and $16 billion for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said the proposal is “not going to make everybody happy” and that it was hashed out “over pizza or over pasta at people’s houses like Lisa’s,” apparently a reference to Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“It would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim package,” Warner said.

Other Democrats backing the plan include Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Angus King of Maine, who is an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Two additional Democrats —Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan — recently sided with Republicans on a vote concerning small-business loans.

The proposal does not contain another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, despite broad bipartisan support. But it includes an assortment of smaller items, including $82 billion for schools, $10 billion for the US Postal Service and $5 billion for opioid addiction treatment.

The bipartisan plan would create a new $25 billion rental assistance program and fund $10 billion for childcare programs and $26 billion for nutrition and agricultural relief, according to a fact sheet.

The pitch is unlikely to become law on its own, but reflects momentum toward compromise in the final days of the legislative session this year.

Congress must pass a spending bill by Dec. 11 to prevent a partial government shutdown and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that the large spending deal “would be a vehicle to add on” COVID-19 relief.

“We don’t have time for messaging games. We don’t have time for lengthy negotiations,” McConnell said. “I would hope that this is something that could be signed into law by the president, be done quickly, deal with the things we can agree on now.” He added that there would still be talks about “some additional package of some size.”

House Speaker Nancy PelosiREUTERS

For months, McConnell (R-Ky.) argued legislators should first pass the most popular pandemic items, then debate and horse-trade on the more contentious details. But Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said a comprehensive COVID-19 bill is needed.

Sad tales on TV from restaurant owners facing bankruptcy and massive food pantry lines did not break the impasse.

Key points of contention include Democrats wanting a large amount of funds for state and local governments, which Republicans said would effectively bail out poorly run Democratic areas. And McConnell insisted on including liability protection for businesses except in cases of gross negligence and misconduct, which most Democrats reject as potentially allowing firms to recklessly endanger people’s health.

Although both sides generally agree to large amounts of funding for schools and COVID-19 heath care, many Senate Republicans are wary of adding to the national debt after blowing through trillions this year amid mass unemployment. Many conservatives vehemently opposed fully reviving a $600 weekly unemployment subsidy, which in some states can result in people earning more not working.

After negotiations failed, Trump in August signed executive orders to establish a national ban on evictions during the pandemic and defer student loan payments. He also partially resurrected the weekly unemployment supplement, though those funds are now depleted and other protections expire this month.

House Democrats passed a more than $3 trillion relief bill in May, and say they are willing to agree to a $2.4 trillion deal. Republicans in July unveiled a $1 trillion counteroffer that also sputtered.

The next session of Congress begins Jan. 3, with Pelosi holding a narrower House majority and control of the Senate in flux. Republicans will hold at least 50 Senate seats, but two seats and control of the chamber will be decided by a Jan. 5 runoff in Georgia.

President-elect Joe Biden last week denied a report that he might be willing to break with Pelosi and agree to a compromise relief bill with Republicans. He declined to comment on the bipartisan plan, telling reporters Tuesday that “I just heard about it. I’ll take a look at it when I get back.”


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