Pelosi, Schumer say $908 billion economic relief package should be starting point for new talks

Source: By Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Democratic leaders had previously called for a much bigger stimulus plan, but flagging economy has created pressure for agreement

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST

The top Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday embraced a $908 billion coronavirus relief framework — a massive concession meant to prod President Trump and Senate Republicans into accepting a compromise as covid cases spike and the economic recovery shows signs of faltering ahead of the holiday.

And potentially building even more momentum behind the plan, at least two new Republican senators offered their own measured support for the idea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that “we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

Before Wednesday, Democratic and Republican leaders had squared off for months, insisting on bills that the other side wouldn’t accept. Wednesday’s announcement by Pelosi and Schumer appeared to be the first time that leaders from one party agreed to back a proposal that had substantial support of members of the other party.

And the willingness to accept a potential bill totaling less than $1 trillion represents a significant step-down for the top Democrats, who had pushed for more than $3 trillion in new aid earlier this year.

President-elect Joe Biden has urged Congress and the Trump administration to pass immediate economic relief measures during the lame duck session of Congress, warning that the economy will continue to deteriorate before a vaccine is readily available. They have also signaled their intention to pursue a sweeping stimulus package after the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.

“The vaccine changes a lot,” a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the strategy. “This is not the end of the game here.”

Efforts to pass additional relief measures have stalled for months.

Democrats and Republicans rallied together to pass close to $3 trillion in economic aid earlier this year, but the bipartisan efforts fell apart after that as the election neared.

Amid negotiations this fall with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the House passed a $1.9 trillion bill, while Senate Republicans stuck to a package totaling around $500 billion.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases and a recent spate of layoffs at airlines and other companies has created new concerns that the economy could weaken markedly later this year. Supporters have said economic relief is needed before vaccines are widely available in the United States sometime in the Spring of 2021.

The bipartisan framework was assembled in recent days through private discussions among a small group of senators as well as members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus. The initial group of senators who helped design the plan included Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).

The “emergency relief framework” released by the bipartisan group on Tuesday is light on details but outlines how to allocate $908 billion for struggling small businesses, state and local governments, and other parts of the economy hurt by covid. The package would fund federal supplement unemployment benefits of $300 per week for millions of jobless Americans.

That assistance would cover at least from January until the end of March for the unemployed, according to one person familiar with the group’s work. No decision has been made yet on whether the benefits would retroactively cover the several prior months during which unemployment benefits have not been paid.

The framework includes $160 billion for state and local governments; $180 billion in aid for jobless Americans; and close to $300 billion in additional support for small businesses, including through another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The proposal would also devote $82 billion for schools and education-needs; $26 billion for agricultural and nutritional assistance; $25 billion in rental assistance; $10 billion for the U.S. postal service; $10 billion for childcare; and $10 billion for rural broadband, among other areas.

The measure would not authorize another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. The Cares Act, which passed in March, authorized one round of these checks for more than 100 million Americans.

The new bipartisan proposal also does not mention how to address a number of emergency economic programs that are set to expire at the end of the year, including a moratorium on evictions and unemployment benefits for gig workers and independent contractors, although congressional aides have discussed whether those measures need to be included.

The measure would also devote tens of billions of dollars for emergency relief for transit authorities, schools, renters, and vaccine distribution, among other health care priorities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed for a smaller deal and it appears unlikely he is poised to support the bipartisan agreement.

He circulated a proposal on Tuesday that offered minimal aid to the jobless, in a sharp break with the bipartisan group that could represent an obstacle to a final deal.McConnell has also delivered an ultimatum, requiring any legislation to immunize businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The bipartisan group did not reach a resolution on that issue, but negotiators have floated a temporary moratorium on such lawsuits to allow states to develop their own litigation standards.

In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the new $908 billion proposal was drawing other support on Tuesday. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she would back it.

“I think that we need bipartisan cooperation to get – to get a bill all the way through,” she said. “And I think that could be the difference between the two bills.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also signaled an openness to the bipartisan proposal.

“I think $900 billion would do a lot more good right now than $2 trillion will do in March,” he said. “This is an important time to step up if we can.”

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