Senior Democrat Backs Consensus Virus Aid Bill: Congress Update
The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

Senior Democrat Backs Consensus Virus Aid Bill: Congress Update

Senior Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said Congress should vote on a bipartisan Covid-19 relief bill that has just the consensus provisions, without the two most controversial elements -- liability protection and aid for state and local governments.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday released details of their two-part $908 billion plan, which could be the basis for final negotiations between congressional leaders. Both parties say the best chance for virus relief to be passed this year is to include it with the government funding bills that need to passed by Friday.

Other Developments:

Senior Democrat Backs Consensus Virus Aid Bill (5:51 p.m.)

Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader and one of the bipartisan negotiators, said that while state and local aid and liability are both “critically” important, he supports voting on the $748 billion consensus measure before Christmas.

He said that bill contains relief that is “desperately needed,” such as $300 billion for small businesses, $180 billion for additional unemployment insurance, $45 billion for transportation including airlines and $82 billion for education, as well as funds for housing assistance, vaccine distribution, child care, the U.S. Postal Service and rural broadband.

“This is our consensus bill,” Durbin said. “We all agree on it. It’s ready to go. There’s no excuse for either the speaker or the leader. You’ve got it. Give us a vote. Don’t let us go home for Christmas without a vote on this.”

The other bill from the bipartisan group includes liability protections for employers and $160 billion in aid for state and local governments. Durbin was among the Democrats who didn’t support the second bill because of its liability provisions.

Other senior Democrats have for months resisted supporting any stimulus package without state and local aid.

Aid Deal Could Come Mid-Week, Cornyn Says (4:50 p.m.)

Cornyn, of Texas, said McConnell and Pelosi have been talking about how to wrap up an agreement on pandemic relief and negotiations need to wrap up quickly to get a package included in a government spending bill that needs to clear Congress by Dec 18.

”I would be shocked if we didn’t see something pretty concrete by at least Wednesday because we’ve got to vote on this thing by Friday and get out of here,” Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol.

Cornyn said the $908 billion bipartisan proposal unveiled Monday isn’t likely to go forward by itself but will be used as jumping-off point for the leaders from both parties in both chambers.

”It’s having a positive influence on what will ultimately included,” Cornyn said of the bipartisan proposal. -- Dan Flatley

Bipartisan Lawmakers Release $908 Billion Plan (4:16 p.m.)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers delivered details of their proposed $908 billion pandemic-relief package, splitting it into two parts in recognition of deep differences over state aid and a liability shield for employers.

The first bill is a $748 billion relief plan that includes consensus items such as nearly $300 billion in help for small business, $300-per-week in enhanced unemployment benefits and aid for vaccine distribution.

The group’s second bill only contains two elements: $160 billion in state aid sought by Democrats and the liability provisions that Republicans have said should be part of an aid package.

It still will be up to the leaders in Congress in both parties to negotiate the terms of legislation that can be put to a vote in the House and Senate. -- Laura Litvan

Sanders Pushes for $1,200 Stimulus Payments (3:40 p.m.)

Sanders, a Vermont independent, said the bipartisan relief proposal should do more to help Americans struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic and he’ll continue pressing to include $1,200 direct payments. He and Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley have joined together in recent weeks to press the case, though leaders in both parties haven’t grabbed onto the idea.

“The bottom line is that there are tens of millions of Americans today who are living with terrible economic desperation,” Sanders said in a telephone interview. “We cannot afford to leave Washington unless we do what we did in the CARES Act, which is to provide at least $1,200 per adult and $500 per kid.”

He said he’s working with lawmakers in both chambers to generate support for the idea. “The overwhelming majority of Democrats would support it, and I think there would be a lot more Republicans than you might think,” he said.

Sanders declined to say when asked if he would try to block or delay other end-of-the-year business, such as funding the government, to force consideration of his proposal.

“I’m not going to go home to Vermont to see my neighbors unable to feed their kids,” Sanders said. “And I hope that other senators and members of the House feel that way. We cannot get out of here until we pass legislation to protect working families.” -- Laura Litvan

Spending Bill Deal Near, With VA Agreement (1:04 p.m.)

Lawmakers approached an agreement on the omnibus spending bill by agreeing to keep the Veterans Affairs Mission Act under the $1.4 trillion budget cap, a significant victory for House Republicans who insisted on this provision, according to two congressional aides

The $12.5 billion for VA health care improvements will be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget. One Democratic aide called the pay-fors “gimmicks,” which don’t harm spending in vital programs.

The White House had resisted the Democratic proposal to designate the money as an emergency and thereby evade the cap.

This agreement will be part of the 12-bill package needed to keep the government running after funding runs out Dec. 18, and this legislation represents the best chance to pass virus-related stimulus this year. -- Erik Wasson

Ditch the Two Roadblocks, U.S. Chamber Says (12 p.m.)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Congress should set aside state and local aid and liability protections -- the two key contentious issues in Covid-19 relief negotiations -- and press ahead with the bulk of the bipartisan proposal.

“Partial agreement is better than no agreement, and it is imperative that Congress advance aid for small businesses and nonprofits, extension of unemployment programs, funding for schools and day care centers, and resources to support vaccinations before the end of the year,” said the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley.

Bradley called a proposal by Senators Rob Portman of Ohio Joe Manchin of West Virginia that included state and local aid and liability protections a “truly bipartisan compromise” that “should become law.” But Bradley said that because Congress hasn’t found common ground on those two provisions, a version of the bill that included them was unlikely to pass. -- Dan Flatley

U.S. Spending Bill May Be Filed Tuesday (10:49 a.m.)

House lawmakers plan to file 12-part omnibus spending legislation as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the plan. These appropriations bills are needed to keep the government open after current funding runs out Dec. 18.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are both aiming to combine the omnibus funding measure and a coronavirus aid package into one bill. -- Jack Fitzpatrick

Democrat Warns of Small Business Bankruptcies (7 a.m.)

Representative Dwight Evans, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, said that a wave of bankruptcies could result next year if lawmakers don’t move forward with an emergency spending bill.

“There has to be a sense of urgency in the passage of this relief package,” Evans said in an interview with Bloomberg TV Monday. “Here in the city of Philadelphia you’re talking about in the range of 30% to 40% of businesses that will never maybe come back again. And the reality is those people are struggling, they are looking for lifelines,” especially in minority areas.

With regard to the differences that have held up a compromise, Evans said, “I don’t think anything is that difficult that we cannot fix it.”

Lawmakers to Unveil Two-Part Relief Plan (2 a.m.)

A bipartisan group of eight lawmakers plans to split up their $908 billion proposal and release two bills on Monday. One will include just liability protections and aid for state and local governments -- the two most contentious issues between Republicans and Democrats. The other will include all the other provisions that have broad consensus, including aid for small businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that Congress move forward with a bill that doesn’t include liability protection for employers from virus-related lawsuits and $160 billion in aid for state and local governments.

“We’ll have a bill produced for the American people” on Monday, Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The group worked through the weekend to resolve the differences on these two provisions, which have stymied a deal for months. The next step for the legislation will be for Republican and Democratic leaders to finish negotiating the final package that could get a vote.

However, the part of the bill with liability protections may not have the support of all the Democrats in the bipartisan group, aides said. That raises doubts about the ability of the proposal to end the stimulus stalemate.

Also, it is unclear whether McConnell would put the legislation on the Senate floor for a vote. McConnell favors Mnuchin’s $916 billion relief proposal, which includes $600 in direct payments to individuals but doesn’t have the $300-per-week supplemental unemployment insurance included in the bipartisan bill.

Lawmakers of both parties have said that the best chance for passing a pandemic-relief bill this month would be to attach it to the 12-bill omnibus package Congress must pass by Friday to fund the government. -- Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson

Coming Up:

The current temporary funding bill for the federal government runs out Dec. 18. Congress is trying to finish work on a full-year $1.4 trillion spending bill by then, with pandemic relief attached. The risk of a shutdown next week hasn’t been eliminated since the talks on the full-year bill have bogged down. Lawmakers could approve another temporary extension.

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