A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday 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 early this year, but since then, despite lengthy negotiations, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been unable to agree on the size of a new aid package or who would get the assistance.
The new aid proposal unveiled by centrist senators is closer to the $500 billion deal that Republicans had sought and well short of the $2.2 trillion Democrats had been advocating.
It is unclear whether the plan can be passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives before the current Congress’ term expires and a new Congress is seated on Jan. 3.
Republican President Donald 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.
As he introduced his economic advisers Tuesday, Biden called for passage of “a robust package of relief that addresses ... urgent needs,” but acknowledged that any legislation approved this month “is likely to be — at best — just the start.”
Trump has stopped talking about new aid, 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.
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.
One of the lawmakers pushing for a compromise, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, told CNBC, “If there’s one thing I’m hearing uniformly, it’s Congress, do not leave town for the holidays leaving the country and the economy adrift” as the remaining aid ends.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters, “We recognize that families all across America are struggling, that businesses are closing, that hospitals are overwhelmed. It is absolutely essential that we pass emergency relief.”