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A bipartisan coalition of senators hopes to break months of congressional stalemate and pass a coronavirus relief package—one with a lower price tag than what Democrats initially asked for and no stimulus checks.
The new framework, announced by centrist lawmakers including Sens. Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday, is worth $908 billion—somewhere in the middle of what Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over since the summer. But the last-ditch attempt to revive pandemic aid talks before Christmas doesn’t include checks directly to qualifying Americans and would provide a temporary shield to businesses facing coronavirus lawsuits—both of which could risk support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But, at this point, Americans may be willing to stomach a few concessions. An estimated 12 million people will be kicked off their unemployment benefits on December 26, while federal eviction and student loan protections will end December 31.
“We know that we have more to do. But we cannot leave, we cannot abandon the American people—the families who are suffering at this time and waiting and begging for Congress to act,” Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said during a press conference Tuesday. “So today, a solution—a proposal to move us forward—is what we have in front of us.”
Without a deal, Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, noted people would lose benefits due to no fault of their own. Their bipartisan proposal, while lacking in some areas, would fund more unemployment benefits and support for small businesses in a time when coronavirus cases are surging and triggering more stay-at-home orders. And the proposal would offer something to the American people before the House heads home on December 10, and the Senate on December 18.
“It’s inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement,” Manchin said.
Their framework includes:
- $160 billion for state, local, and tribal governments
- $180 billion for “additional unemployment insurance”
- $288 billion in support for small businesses
- $82 billion for education
- $45 billion for transportation, like airlines
- $35 billion for a “healthcare provider relief fund”
- $26 billion for nutrition/agricultural support
- $25 billion for rental housing assistance
- $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution, plus COVID-19 testing and tracing
- $12 billion in community lender support for minority depository institutions (MDIs) and community development financial institutions (CDFIs)
- $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service
- $10 billion for child care
- $10 billion for broadband
- $5 billion for opioid treatment
- $4 billion for student loans
- Short-term protection from COVID-related lawsuits so states can develop their own response
Congressional leaders have argued for several weeks over the cost and particulars of another coronavirus aid package, despite easily coming together to pass the $2 trillion CARES Act at the onset of the pandemic.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer continue to stick by the HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion bill replete with cash for state and local governments, stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, housing assistance, and more.
The Trump administration, which was regularly negotiating with Pelosi before President Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden, balked at that price tag, but eventually offered a $1.8 trillion deal, which Pelosi still wasn’t happy with. The concession also lacked broad Republican support, though Trump suggested he could get his party in line.
Now, Democrats are largely stuck deal-making with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has put forth a smaller $500 billion stimulus proposal that includes liability protections for businesses, something he’s called his “red line.” Pelosi has said such protections would deny essential workers recourse if they get sick from COVID-19.
While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’d speak to Pelosi about COVID-19 relief on Tuesday for the first time since Election Day, he noted his first priority was the spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown on Dec. 11, according to Reuters.
Romney, a Republican from Utah, said during a press conference Tuesday that his group has spoken to McConnell’s office and Mnuchin about their framework, but it’s unclear whether either agrees with the deal.
“I don’t have any predictions on how the White House would act,” he said.