House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday threw their support behind using a bipartisan, compromise plan as the basis for COVID-19 relief talks.
“While we made a new offer to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy on Monday, in the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.y) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The move to put a $908 billion compromise bill at the center of talks is a significant retreat from the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act that Democrats have been pushing in recent months, and will add pressure on McConnell to respond in kind.
Prior to November’s election, Pelosi turned down a $1.8 trillion offer from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was negotiating on behalf of the Trump administration, citing major differences on policy details.
McConnell has insisted on a “targeted,” $500 billion approach.
The stakes for passing a relief bill during the lame-duck session are monumental. Two crucial unemployment programs are set to expire on Dec. 31, which would leave an estimated 12 million people with no income during the worst phase of the pandemic so far.
Other key programs, such as $600 in supplemental unemployment insurance and a forgivable loan program for small businesses called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) expired in the summer.
S&P Global is forecasting that the economy will already shrink in the fourth quarter of this year, and may fall into a full double-dip recession if Congress fails to pass a relief bill, kneecapping the economic recovery.
In an attempt to break the stalemate, a group of bipartisan centrists on Tuesday unveiled the $908 billion compromise proposal, which would extend the unemployment benefits, restore additional weekly pay at $300, provide $160 billion for state and local funding, and renew the PPP with $288 billion.
Another $16 billion would go toward distributing vaccines, two of which are already under consideration for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
Pelosi and Schumer said the proposal should be the basis for talks, not the final deal.
“Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” they said.
McConnell and Pelosi have yet to speak about the plan, and have no public plans to meet and negotiate.
While McConnell has repeatedly spoken of the need for relief, he said Wednesday that he was sticking to his plan with the backing of the White House.
“After several conversations with the secretary of the Treasury and the White House chief of staff, I put forward yesterday another proposal reflecting what the president is ready to sign into law,” he said.
President-elect Joe Biden has pushed for a compromise deal, but said that further stimulus would be necessary later.
“Right now, the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package of relief that addresses these urgent needs,” he said, ticking off support for schools, unemployment insurance, businesses, and state and local funding.
“But any package passed in the lame-duck session is likely to be — at best — just the start,” he added.