- Several GOP senators expressed support for the $US908 billion stimulus compromise in a sign the plan is gathering momentum on Capitol Hill.
- “I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters, per a pool report.
- Congress is under mounting pressure to act as coronavirus hospitalizations reach new highs and cases rise.
- Several emergency rescue programs for unemployed people also expire this month.
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Several Republican senators on Thursday lined up behind the $US908 billion bipartisan compromise relief package, boosting the plan’s momentum in a perilous stretch of the pandemic.
Pressure is mounting on Congress to immediately pass coronavirus relief legislation after months of inaction and as cases rise virtually unchecked across the country. The US has marked a series of grim new milestones: hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the first time on Wednesday, and the nation recorded 2,804 deaths on the same day â€” the highest one-day total.
Lawmakers are scrambling to reach a stimulus deal before Congress faces a must-pass government spending bill due by December 11, or otherwise risk a shutdown. Congressional Democratic leaders endorsed the bipartisan framework on Wednesday in a massive concession from their previous demands for at least $US2.2 trillion in spending.
Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are among the Republicans that signalled support for the $US908 billion relief package, which was introduced Tuesday. Graham struck an optimistic tone about the ongoing relief talks and said he’d discussed it with President Donald Trump.
“I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill,” Graham told reporters, per a pool report. He added that he supported the relief package and said it “will really help people.”
Grassley, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, indicated he would set aside his concerns about the plan’s overall price tag if its provisions garnered backing from both parties.
“It’s a little high for me. But more important for me is the things that are in it,” he said, per pool reports. “If everything in it has some bipartisan support … the figure might not be the biggest thing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t comment about the bipartisan deal when asked about it by reporters on Thursday. He said a phone conversation he had with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that afternoon had gone well and both were interested in reaching a deal on a stimulus package and a year-end spending package.
Meanwhile, Trump said he would support a bipartisan deal at the White House on Thursday. “I think we are getting very close. I want it to happen,” Trump said. “And I believe we are getting very close to a deal.”
But the plan is merely a framework and still lacks legislative text. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who is corralling lawmakers, said a bill could be released on Monday.
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.
Sixteen lawmakers introduced the framework on Tuesday, including Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.
The package lacks a fresh round of $US1,200 stimulus payments similar to the ones sent out to tens of millions of Americans earlier this year. The structure of federal unemployment benefits is also still being hashed out as several emergency rescue programs aiding millions of jobless Americans will expire in about three weeks.
A person outside Capitol Hill who is close to the negotiations said unemployment benefits for gig workers could be extended at least through March within the proposal. The limited pot of money, they said, could restrict retroactive federal payments only to October â€” two months after the $US600 weekly federal benefit expired.
McConnell circulated a new version of a $US500 billion package among Republicans on Wednesday. It didn’t include any extra funding for federal unemployment benefits, and it would extend aid programs for gig workers and state benefits for a month beyond December 31.Most of the funding would be allocated to small businesses, then to schools.
“We are still working on it,” Cornyn, who’s part of the GOP leadership, told Insider of stimulus negotiations. “I’m not convinced it can’t get done.”