- Congressional Democrats came out in favour of a bipartisan $US908 billion spending plan on Wednesday.
- It’s a large concession for Democrats, who held out for a multitrillion-dollar rescue package for several months.
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the plan’s framework “should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”
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Congressional Democratic leaders came out in favour of a $US908 billion stimulus package on Wednesday, saying it should be the starting point in negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the plan’s framework “should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”
Their backing of the bipartisan legislation represents a huge concession after Democrats pushed a multitrillion-dollar spending plan for over six months to confront the economic and health crises. The overall spending in the latest rescue package, introduced on Tuesday, is less than a third of the $US3.4 trillion plan they sought in May.
Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP Senate leadership, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the announcement from Pelosi and Schumer was “progress.”
“It’s a move in the right direction, and I think hopefully it will be helpful in us getting a deal done,” he said. “They had this huge request, which was unreasonable. They have gotten reasonable, and I think that could help us get to a solution.”
Congress has increasingly faced pressure to act as coronavirus cases rise nationwide and several emergency rescue programs to aid unemployed people are set to expire in just over three weeks. Both threaten to hammer a shaky recovery.
President-elect Joe Biden has also recently urged lawmakers to pass another aid package before they adjourn on December 11.
The measures in the short-term plan introduced on Tuesday include:
- $US300 federal weekly unemployment benefits
- $US240 billion in new Paycheck Protection Program assistance for small businesses
- $US160 billion in funding for state and local governments
- $US51 billion in new healthcare and vaccine-related funds
- A temporary liability shield for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits
The plan was introduced by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia; Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.
The proposal was sparse on details other than overall spending levels, though lawmakers took questions from reporters about the deal on Tuesday. Manchin, one of its key negotiators, told reporters on Wednesday that the formal text of the interim rescue package was expected to be ready as early as Monday.
“I don’t think there’s anything else out there that can give us the relief the country needs,” Manchin said.
The plan left out a second round of $US1,200 direct payments for taxpayers, likely in an effort to keep its price tag below $US1 trillion. Many GOP senators have been reluctant to support an expensive plan, citing the rising budget deficit. A round of checks like the ones distributed earlier this year would cost about $US300 billion.
The plan didn’t address a range of federal programs set to expire this month, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and a moratorium on evictions. Nearly 12 million Americans are at risk of losing their jobless aid this month.
McConnell dismissed the plan on Tuesday and pressed for lower spending similar to a relief measure unveiled twice, in September and October.
The Kentucky Republican circulated a new version of the $US500 billion package among Republicans on Wednesday. It didn’t include any additional funding for federal unemployment benefits, and it would extend aid programs for gig workers and state benefits for a month beyond December 31. The bulk of the funding would be directed to small businesses, then to schools.
Many economists and Federal Reserve officials have urged Congress to pass a new relief bill. Unemployment claims have increased for the past two weeks, and the recent surges in coronavirus cases have caused states to renew business restrictions.
At a virtual event on the state of the economy on Wednesday, Biden appeared to express support for the compromise package. He said it “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be immediate help for a lot of things quickly.”
He indicated his transition team was already drafting more legislative proposals to address the economic downturn as well. He said that the relief plan “at best, is only going to be a down payment for what’s going to happen early next year.”