A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus relief deal after months of congressional gridlock over another emergency aid package for American workers and businesses still reeling from the pandemic.
"It won't make everyone happy," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said during a press conference on Tuesday. "But there's been an enormous amount of work done."
The bipartisan agreement allocates about $300 billion in funding for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, $240 billion in aid for state and local governments, $180 billion to extend boosted unemployment benefits at $300 per week for four months and a temporary moratorium on COVID liability lawsuits to allow states enough time to design their own laws. It notably does not include a second stimulus check.
The proposal from the group of 10 senators — including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Angus King, I-Maine; and Warner — represents a compromise between the $500 billion package backed by Republicans and the $2.2 trillion in spending that Democrats maintain is needed.
It was endorsed by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a 50-member bipartisan group that's evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Negotiations on Capitol Hill have been stalled for months despite seemingly endless meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who will be speaking again by phone on Tuesday regarding a COVID-19 relief bill and a government spending deal.
While there is broad support among members of both parties to pass another coronavirus relief bill, they disagree sharply over the size and scope of it even as lifelines that propped up the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic — like the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and sweetened unemployment benefits — lapsed months ago.
Key policy differences, including funding for a virus testing plan, aid to state and local governments and tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, have confounded lawmakers since May, and they remain no less of a challenge in the weeks after the 2020 election.
The expiration of the aid comes at an increasingly perilous time for the nation as it teeters on the brink of another economic downturn: COVID-19 infections are surging, state and local governments are implementing more restriction measures and new unemployment insurance claims rose for two consecutive weeks for the first time since July.
"It's simply unacceptable for us to not help in this circumstance," Romney told reporters, noting that the price tag includes $560 billion in repurposed funding from the March CARES Act and just $348 billion in new funding. "I happen to be a deficit hawk...But the time to borrow money, maybe the only time to borrow money, is when there's a crisis. And this is a crisis."
Economists are increasingly warning of a bleak winter unless Congress manages to overcome a monthslong impasse and pass another round of emergency relief for workers and businesses reeling from the virus.
“There hasn’t been a bigger need for it in a long, long time here,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recently, his latest appeal to Congress and the White House regarding another stimulus package.
With just seven legislative days left on their calendar, it's unclear whether lawmakers will be able to reach an agreement before year's end.
"We have to do something in the next two weeks," Manchin said. "We have to."