WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that another wave of urgently needed coronavirus aid was “very close” — and vowed that lawmakers wouldn’t leave Washington until they had inked a deal.
“Our bipartisan discussions are continuing to make significant headway toward another relief package for the American people,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.
“Democratic leaders, Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy and I have been working around the clock. I’m even more optimistic now than I was last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is very close at hand,” he added, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Lawmakers are under mounting pressure to pass another aid package following nine months of inaction in which hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives to the virus and tens of millions of others have lost their jobs.
As the death toll continues to reach new daily records and the holiday season approaches, Congress has just days to come to an agreement on how much should be spent on key sticking points like direct stimulus checks and money for broke state and local governments.
Congressional leaders also have just hours to pass a $1.4 trillion government spending bill before funding lapses at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
An estimated 12 million people will lose their unemployment insurance the day after Christmas if Congress fails to extend provisions from the March CARES Act that expanded benefits.
Millions will also face the threat of losing their homes if a federal eviction moratorium lapses at the end of the month.
Lawmakers wanted to tack the coronavirus relief onto the spending bill, but it appears time has run out and it’s expected that negotiations may continue into the weekend.
The $900 billion relief plan being hammered out by Pelosi, McConnell and the White House’s point person, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is to reinstate the federal unemployment boost at $300 per week and provide a round of $600 stimulus checks.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)AFP via Getty Images
That’s down from the $1,200 direct payments Americans received in March. President Trump, reportedly unhappy with the lowered amount, had to be talked out of making a last-minute demand for checks as large as $2,000.
Responding to a Washington Post report on Friday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the president was “going to go with Sen. McConnell.”
“We’re waiting for the Democrats to sign off,” he said, calling their stance “pretty much nailed down.”
However, Kudlow acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans were still arguing about how much money should be given to state governments — something the GOP has opposed because some Republicans see the money as a bailout for poorly managed states.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been opposed to the liability protection measure that McConnell has tried to include in his bills, resulting in months of gridlock.
“There’s disagreements there,” Kudlow said Friday. “The state and local stuff’s not going to fly. Liability limits are not going to fly. But we’ll give plenty of money. Anything to do with vaccines, distribution, we’ll give plenty of money.”
Intra-party tensions have also been on display during the negotiation process, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) insisting Democrats were responsible for delaying the relief by walking away from the White House’s offer of a $1.8 trillion coronavirus package.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on Thursday claimed during a virtual town hall that progressives held out for “a second wave of survival payments” but said they still weren’t good enough.
“We clawed our way to $600 … It’s still an insulting amount,” she said of stimulus checks.
“It just seems like the Republican Party in the Senate just doesn’t care,” she went on.
“What is rather astonishing to me is we know there are hungry people in their states, too. There are people on the brink of eviction in their states, too.”
“For whatever reason, they’re more passionate about corporate liability protections, essentially corporation immunity that will shield corporations from lawsuits from their workers,” she said.