A top Senate Democrat joined a growing number of rank-and-file lawmakers in backing a scaled-back coronavirus relief deal that excludes fiscal relief for states and local governments — a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, the No. 2. Senate Democrat, called on Pelosi to set aside her demands for a massive multitrillion-dollar aid package and back the $748 billion bipartisan measure.
“There is no excuse for the speaker or the leader, you’ve got to give us a vote,” Durbin said Monday during a press conference announcing the legislation.
The $748 billion proposal, released by a dozen centrist senators on Monday, includes funding for education, vaccine distribution, transportation, small business relief and federal unemployment aid. A more controversial $160 billion add-on would include aid for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses against COVID-related lawsuits — the two thorniest issues that have plagued negotiations for months.
The bipartisan group said they all back the narrower measure and urged leaders to bring it to the floor for a vote this week.
"This is our consensus bill," Durbin said. "We all agree on it. It’s ready to go."
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have not weighed in publicly on the proposal yet, but had indicated last week they would be willing to support a deal worth less than the $2.2 trillion they maintained for months was needed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has also not commented on the bipartisan offer, said on the Senate floor that the "Republican side wants to make a law" and urged his Democratic colleagues to join those efforts.
Separately, Pelosi has continued to hold discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about coronavirus relief efforts after trying -- without success -- for months to reach a deal on their own. McConnell and Pelosi have both said they want to attach a relief deal to the government spending measure that Congress needs to pass by Friday in order to avert a government shutdown.
After months of deadlock, lawmakers are rushing to try and strike a deal before the end of the year, when social safety nets put in place earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act are set to expire. At least 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, while eviction moratoriums for renters and protections for student borrowers are set to lapse.
"Weeks have passed, hours and hours of Zoom calls and we've reached this point," Durbin said. "It feels good, it feels like legislating, it feels like why we were elected."
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., echoed that sentiment, saying lawmakers "cannot afford to wait any longer to act."
"This should not be Congress’ last COVID relief bill, but it is a strong compromise that deserves support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate," Coons, a close ally of President-elect Joe Biden, said. “We cannot leave for the holidays without getting relief to those Americans who need it.”