Pelosi says coronavirus relief could be attached to government spending bill

Pelosi said there is 'momentum' on passing a COVID relief bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that new coronavirus relief measures could be attached to the omnibus spending bill that Congress needs to pass by next week in order to avoid a government shutdown.

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Speaking to reporters during a Capitol Hill press conference, Pelosi said that she spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday about merging the spending bill and emergency relief for families and workers still reeling from the pandemic. McConnell has also endorsed tying the two together as one package.

Her comments came after a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion COVID relief framework earlier this week that's garnered the support of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as President-elect Joe Biden. Pelosi said Friday the proposal could be a "basis for real bicameral negotiations" and could "take us very close to something we can put into the omnibus."

"There is momentum," she said, adding: "We saw a framework, now they have to get it into text. We'll take the time we need, and we'll get it done. We must get it done before we leave. We cannot leave without it."

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Pelosi and Schumer's endorsement of the narrower deal is a stark reversal from previous months when they maintained that at least $2.2 trillion is needed in new spending. But Pelosi defended her decision to back the smaller proposal, citing Biden's victory in the 2020 election and the development of two seemingly effective vaccines, which she called an "answer to our prayers."

"That is a total gamechanger," she said. "A new president and a vaccine."

The bipartisan proposal, which has also been endorsed by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, 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 through March and a temporary moratorium on COVID liability lawsuits to allow states enough time to design their own laws.

It would also funnel $16 billion into vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, put $82 billion into education, and give $45 billion for transportation. The deal notably does not include a second stimulus check.

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Still, with just five legislative days left on their calendar, it's unclear whether lawmakers will be able to overcome key sticking points that have confounded them since the summer.

Renewed relief talks come at an increasingly perilous time for the nation as it teeters on the brink of another economic downturn. COVID-19 cases are surging — on Wednesday, the U.S. reported its highest number of coronavirus deaths in a single day with 3,157 new fatalities — state and local governments are implementing more restriction measures and job growth is slowing.

The Labor Department's payroll report, released Friday morning, showed the economy added just 245,000 jobs in November, sharply missing Wall Street's expectations. It marked the fifth consecutive month of a slowdown in job growth.

“As the pandemic surges, labor market recovery is clearly decelerating and cracks are beginning to show," Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao said.

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