U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says time is running out for U.S. lawmakers to reach an agreement on a second massive round of aid addressing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
With just a handful of days left in session this year, members of Congress are racing to reach an agreement after months of fruitless negotiations.
McConnell told reporters Tuesday he had been in discussion with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows earlier in the day to determine what legislation U.S. President Donald Trump would be willing to sign.
“The way you get a result, you have to have a presidential signature. So, I felt the first thing we needed to do was to find out what the president would in fact sign. We believe we've got the answer to that,” McConnell said. He added that given the dwindling days in session, any agreement on coronavirus relief would more than likely be tied to the omnibus bill funding the U.S. government past a December 11 deadline.
The Senate majority leader has for months maintained that the $3.3 trillion HEROES Act, passed by the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives in June, and subsequent proposals were an expensive over-reaction to the need caused by the pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a new proposal to congressional Republicans late Monday. But Schumer would not get into the details of the proposal when asked by reporters Tuesday, saying he hoped McConnell would negotiate.
“The House is Democratic majority. He knows darn well he needs Democratic votes in the Senate to get anything done since a number of his people won't vote for any proposal. And yet he continues to negotiate in a partisan way,” Schumer said.
Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday she had spoken with Mnuchin and that he was reviewing the proposal.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday also proposed a $908 billion coronavirus relief package in a new attempt to help unemployed workers and boost the flagging American economy as the number of virus infections soars by tens of thousands a day.
Congress and the White House approved $3 trillion in relief earlier this year. The new aid proposal unveiled by centrist senators is closer to the $500 billion deal that Republicans had sought, but well short of the $2.2 trillion Democrats had been advocating.
Trump had pushed for a new package larger than even Democrats had called for, but that was before Trump lost his bid for re-election a month ago to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
As president-elect, Biden has called for more federal coronavirus relief aid, but not spelled out the details of what he supports. Trump has stopped talking about new assistance for those affected by the pandemic, instead focusing on his long-shot legal effort to overturn his electoral defeat to keep Biden from being inaugurated for a four-year term January 20. Congress is expected to recess by mid-December and will begin a new term on January 3.
The new aid proposal would provide a $300-a-week federal boost in unemployment assistance to tens of millions of unemployed workers for four months on top of less generous state jobless aid. National $600 weekly assistance favored by Democrats expired at the end of July and has not been renewed.
The bipartisan agreement attempts to bridge past aid disagreements, calling for $240 billion in funding for state and local governments that Democrats want although it is opposed by most Republicans. The accord envisions a six-month moratorium on some coronavirus-related lawsuits against businesses and other entities — a Republican plank opposed by most Democrats.
Small businesses would get $300 billion while $50 billion would help pay for distribution of coronavirus vaccines after they are approved by health regulators.
Economists are warning of new dire problems for the economy if more aid is not approved. Several relief programs are set to expire at the end of the year, with 12 million Americans on pace to lose their jobless benefits. Eviction protections for renters and loan payment delays for student borrowers are also set to end.