WASHINGTON - Republican and Democratic congressional leaders expressed hope late Tuesday about reaching an agreement on a new round of coronavirus aid that has eluded U.S. lawmakers for months.
"I think we're moving in the right direction,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after two rounds of talks. “I think there's a possibility of getting it done.”
The meetings included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"We're making progress and hopefully we can come to an agreement soon,” Schumer said. “I think there is a genuine desire to come to an agreement."
Without a deal, several key programs are set to expire at the end of month, including unemployment aid that reaches 12 million out-of-work Americans and a rental eviction moratorium that is keeping an estimated 40 million Americans sheltered during the cold winter months.
Funding for the U.S. government also is set to run out Friday, when a short-term extension expires.
McConnell has suggested that to pass more funding for coronavirus relief, lawmakers set aside what he says are their two key points of disagreement: Republicans’ request for liability protections for businesses to reopen without fear of lawsuits related to the pandemic, and Democrats’ request for more state and local funding, in part to address shortfalls in payments to frontline emergency workers.
“We all know the new administration is going to be asking for another package, we can live to fight another day on what we disagree on. But we ought to agree to go forward on what we can agree on,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Congressional Democrats have rejected the proposal, saying it would leave behind emergency workers and slow down the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
“We need to fully fund not only production of the vaccine but its distribution as well. The states badly need that money,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday.
There are only a few days left in Congress’ scheduled sessions, but leaders in both parties say they are focused on reaching a deal and could work right up until the Christmas holiday next week.
President-elect Joe Biden has said that even if lawmakers reach agreement on aid this month, a subsequent round of aid will almost certainly need to be negotiated when the new Congress is sworn in early next year.
The White House said Tuesday President Donald Trump would wait to see the specifics of the deal before signing off on it.
“He’s said that he would really like to see those stimulus checks in there, but his priority at the end of the day is getting relief to the American people. We’re hopeful there will be some sort of agreement, but I would note that we’ve been the party that’s been flexible on this,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.
Many Americans received up to $1,200 in payments earlier this year to address the impact of business closures meant to control the spread of the pandemic. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed approval for another round of smaller stimulus checks.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a $748 billion aid proposal that would enhance unemployment benefits by $300 a week and extend jobless benefits through April 19.
A deal on a second round of aid has proved elusive for lawmakers since the $3 trillion CARES Act, the largest aid package in U.S. history, passed in late March with bipartisan agreement.