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Prospects for a pandemic relief package before the end of the year grew substantially as senior Republicans warmed to the idea of using a $908 billion proposal from a bipartisan group of lawmakers as a basis for a deal.
The plan outlined by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate has emerged as the first real chance for a compromise that has eluded party leaders and the White House for months.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t publicly thrown his support behind the plan, after having won President Donald Trump’s backing for his own, narrower proposal. That stance risks leaving him increasingly isolated as support shifts among Republicans eager to get some kind of agreement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have already endorsed using the bipartisan proposal in negotiations. Several Republican senators, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said Thursday that it contained elements for an agreement.
Graham said he pitched it to the president, whose support would be crucial to get more Republicans on board.
“The president is of the mindset that we need relief sooner rather than later, and that the package that’s being talked about is well in the ballpark of what he would would support if it had the right policy provisions,” said Graham, who was at the White House for an event on Thursday. “If the president came out for it, you’d have a large number of Republicans and Democrats vote for it.”
Trump earlier in the day had backed McConnell’s efforts, saying “they’re getting very close to a deal,” but made no direct mention of the bipartisan proposal.
That plan hasn’t yet been turned into legislative text — that won’t be finished until next week — and an agreement will hinge on details that have hung up a deal in the past. Those include magnitude of aid to state and local governments, which many Republicans have opposed, and a Covid-19 related liability shield for employers, which Democrats have called a poison pill.
The four GOP senators behind the bipartisan proposal met Thursday with McConnell. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said it was a chance to “walk him through” the outline and provide more details. She indicated they left the meeting with no commitments from the GOP leader.
“We’re getting more and more support from Republicans and Democrats,” another member of the group, Utah Senator Mitt Romney said after that sit-down.
“We’re continuing to negotiate an entire package that includes the full $908 billion — that deals with state and local and liability coverage and extending the PPP program,” he said, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program that supports small businesses. “There’s transportation funding for airlines, for bus companies, for transit systems.”
McConnell and Pelosi also talked on Thursday. That discussion covered a broader measure to fund government operations, which lawmakers are working to finish before money runs out Dec. 11, as well as pandemic relief.
“We had a good conversation,” the Kentucky Republican said, without addressing the compromise proposal. “I think we’re both interested in getting an outcome both on the omnibus and on a coronavirus package.”
North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who isn’t part of the bipartisan group, expressed concern about how the state aid would be distributed, but said the proposal could be a “bridge” to getting the U.S. population and the economy back to health.
“I think it’s a matter of working out the details,” he said.
Pelosi and Schumer said that while they would seek some changes in the bipartisan plan as outlined, it was sufficient in enough areas for them to retreat from a pre-election stance in favor of a $2.4 trillion stimulus.
The compromise pitch covers a shorter period of time than the leaders’ earlier proposal — providing aid through the winter — with Democrats hoping they can get another significant relief bill after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
Schumer said Thursday that the U.S. risks a “double-dip recession” without a stimulus package.
Although the government reported Thursday that applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by the most in almost two months, many analysts are increasingly warning that the economy will slow further or even contract in coming months with the pandemic still causing shutdowns and impeding consumers. The November jobs report on Friday is expected to show a further slowdown in payroll gains.
— With assistance by Jordan Fabian, and Jarrell Dillard
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