Pelosi, Schumer say $908B pandemic relief package should be basis for new talks

The top Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday embraced a $908 billion coronavirus relief framework—a massive concession meant to prod President Trump and Senate Republicans into accepting a compromise as COVID-19 cases spike and the economic recovery shows signs of faltering ahead of the holiday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that “we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

Democratic and Republican leaders had squared off for months, insisting on bills that the other side wouldn’t accept. Wednesday’s announcement by Pelosi and Schumer appeared to be the first time that leaders from one party agreed to back a proposal that had substantial support of members of the other party.

And the willingness to accept a potential bill totaling less than $1 trillion represents a significant step down for the top Democrats, who had pushed for more than $3 trillion in new aid earlier this year.

Democrats and Republicans rallied together to pass close to $3 trillion in economic aid earlier this year, but the bipartisan efforts fell apart after that as the election neared.

Amid negotiations this fall with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the House passed a $1.9 trillion bill, while Senate Republicans stuck to a package totaling around $500 billion.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases and a recent spate of layoffs at airlines and other companies has created new concerns that the economy could weaken markedly later this year. Supporters have said economic relief is needed before vaccines are widely available in the United States sometime in the Spring of 2021.

The bipartisan framework was assembled in recent days through private discussions among a small group of centrist senators as well as members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus.

While the proposal has not yet been drafted into legislation, it reflects compromises on several key sticking points.

The framework includes $160 billion for state and local governments; $180 billion in aid for jobless Americans; and close to $300 billion in additional support for small businesses, including through another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The measure would also devote tens of billions of dollars for emergency relief for transit authorities, schools, renters, and vaccine distribution, among other health care priorities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pushed for a smaller deal and it appears unlikely he is poised to support the bipartisan agreement.

He circulated a proposal on Tuesday that offered minimal aid to the jobless, in a sharp break with the bipartisan group that could represent an obstacle to a final deal.McConnell has also delivered an ultimatum, requiring any legislation to immunize businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The bipartisan group did not reach a resolution on that issue, but negotiators have floated a temporary moratorium on such lawsuits to allow states to develop their own litigation standards.

In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the new $908 billion proposal was drawing other support on Tuesday. Sen. Shelley More Capito, R-W.Va., said she would back it.

“”I think that we need bipartisan cooperation to get a bill all the way through,” she said. “And I think that could be the difference between the two bills.”

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