New Stimulus Plan Gets More GOP Interest; McConnell Holds Back

A bipartisan stimulus proposal endorsed by Democratic leaders as a basis for negotiations is luring increased interest from Republicans, raising the chances for a deal by year-end.

“We’re getting more and more support from Republicans and Democrats,” GOP Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, part of the group of senators from both parties proposing the $908 billion plan, said Thursday after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to explain the outline. A dozen senators have been working to flesh out a full bill, he said.

McConnell has yet to publicly embrace it, but several other key GOP lawmakers are eyeing it as the foundation for a deal on pandemic relief.

Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, said he backed the compromise and spoke with Trump about it.

“I told him that the $908 billion bill has bipartisan support,” Graham said. “If the president came out for it, you’d have a large number of Republicans and Democrats vote for it.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley was among those expressing openness to the bill Thursday. He told reporters he’s studying it, but wants a cap on state and local aid -- a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats throughout the half-year of stalemate over Covid-19 relief -- of $150 billion.

‘Doable’ Number

Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, said of the proposal, “I like the effort. It strikes the right balance of compromise and it’s a number that’s doable.”

McConnell said earlier that it was “heartening” that Democrats have embraced a smaller price tag for a stimulus package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had previously sought a $2.4 trillion bill. But the GOP leader gave no indication he was willing to raise his own offer to get a deal.

McConnell on the Senate floor Thursday morning again called for passing narrowly targeted relief that focuses on priorities that have broad support -- such as small business aid and funding for vaccine distribution -- while leaving debate on other elements that Republicans and Democrats disagree on for later.

“The solution to this impasse has been in plain sight for a long time now for anyone willing to see it,” the Kentucky Republican said, in comments suggesting no fundamental shift in his own stance.

‘Gathering Momentum’

McConnell did hold a midday call with Pelosi to discuss Covid-19 relief and an omnibus government spending bill, Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said. McConnell spokesman David Popp declined to comment about the call.

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, another sponsor of the bipartisan plan, claimed “gathering momentum” for it, with “more” Republicans accepting the price tag compared with those opposing it.

McConnell has pushed an alternative that’s along the lines of a previous bill of roughly $500 billion that Democrats blocked, calling it inadequate. He reiterated on Thursday criticism of Democratic moves to include what he described as non-coronavirus related items.

Schumer hit back at McConnell’s lack of a bipartisan tone, saying on the Senate floor, “Once again, the Republican leader argued that the Senate should pass only what Republicans approve of and leave the rest for later.”

Pelosi ‘Optimistic’

Pelosi said earlier Thursday she was “optimistic” about making progress. “We’re hopeful,” she told reporters at the Capitol.

Trump also expressed optimism. “I believe they’re getting very close to a deal,” he told reporters at the White House, adding that he would “absolutely” support an agreement.

The state of the economy, the fast emergence of coronavirus vaccines, pressure from party moderates and President-elect Joe Biden’s election all likely influenced the move by Pelosi and Schumer, which was the first real break by either side from long-held positions.

The compromise plan would cover a shorter period of time than the leaders’ earlier proposal, providing aid through the winter, with Democrats hoping the Biden administration will propose another significant relief bill next year.

The $908 billion proposal also has the backing of the Problem Solvers, a 50-strong group of House Democrats and Republicans that had made another attempt at bridging the divide before Election Day.

Short Window

Congress has a small window to act this year. Covid-19 relief could be attached to a separate omnibus spending bill that lawmakers are hashing out to keep the federal government funded past Dec. 11. The U.S. government has been working under a stopgap measure since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby spoke on that omnibus bill on Thursday. Hoyer said the goal is a spending deal by midnight Saturday, which Shelby said was a worthy objective but may not be achievable. Hoyer said he wants a House vote by Dec. 10.

Both parties expect Biden to propose a bigger tranche of spending once he takes office on Jan. 20, but another stimulus package in 2021 is hardly assured. Republicans will still control the Senate unless Democrats can pull off a longshot bid to win both Georgia Senate seats in a Jan. 5 runoff. Although there is a group of Republicans who would back more stimulus spending, there is also a faction that sees no need for any additional stimulus and McConnell would control the chamber’s agenda if he remains as majority leader.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.