McConnell Says Relief Talks Should Drop Liability, State Aid
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, speaks during a television interview in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

McConnell Says Relief Talks Should Drop Liability, State Aid

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested setting aside his top priority of business liability protections in exchange for Democrats dropping their demands for state government aid in a final 2020 pandemic relief package, a strategic retreat he said was aimed at striking a deal.

The two issues have been the main stumbling blocks to any agreement on a relief plan for months.

McConnell on Tuesday said both should be set aside and the focus put on three areas where both parties agree help is needed: small business assistance, expanded unemployment insurance and funding for vaccine distribution and other anti-coronavirus efforts.

“It’s my view, and I think it’s the view shared by literally everybody on both sides of the aisle, that we can’t leave without doing a Covid bill,” McConnell said at a news conference. “The country needs it.”

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said leaving out state and local aid would hurt essential workers across the nation, including police officers and firefighters, who face job losses. He accused McConnell of “pulling the rug out” from under a bipartisan group of lawmakers working on a compromise relief plan.

“Leader McConnell has refused to be part of the bipartisan negotiations,” Schumer said at his own news conference. “And now he’s sabotaging good faith, bipartisan negotiations because his partisan ideological effort is not getting a good reception.”

U.S. stock indexes rose toward records after McConnell’s remarks, reversing earlier declines.

Adding to the mix, some lawmakers from both parties also are pushing to add stimulus payments to individuals, which the bipartisan proposal didn’t include because of the cost. The last stimulus bill from Congress provided $1,200 payments to most Americans.

President Donald Trump, who hasn’t explicitly endorsed the latest bipartisan proposal, favors adding individual payments to the next relief package, a person familiar with the matter said. White House officials have been talking with GOP leaders about including payments of $600 or more in any plan, though Trump has indicated willingness to boost that to as much as $2,000.

McConnell and Schumer spoke as a group of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate continue work on their own $908 billion relief proposal. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have backed that framework as a basis for negotiations.

Stimulus Payments

Pelosi said earlier Tuesday she remains optimistic about getting a deal but emphasized she considers it a bridge to another, larger package next year once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

“Make no mistake, this is an emergency supplemental,” she said. “It is not a stimulus. It’s too small.”

McConnell, who hasn’t directly acknowledged Biden’s election as Trump disputes the results, said he expects “the new administration is going to be asking for another package. What I recommend is we set aside liability, we set aside state and local and pass those things that we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year.”

The size and scope of another package may depend on the outcome of a runoff vote for both of Georgia’s Senate seats. A double win for Democrats on Jan. 5 would leave the Senate split 50-50, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. But if Republicans win at least one of those, McConnell would remain as majority leader and be able to dictate what proposals come to the floor for a vote.

McConnell on Tuesday said he and other Republicans continue to question whether states and local governments need additional aid.

The drafters of the bipartisan proposal are planning to release a more detailed outline Tuesday afternoon, but without provisions on liability and local and state aid, which were still the subject of negotiation, said Sam Runyon, a spokesperson for Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and one of the lawmakers involved.

Republicans had balked at the six-month moratorium on lawsuits proposed in the bipartisan package, saying it was too limited. There also were objections regarding the amount of state and local aid.

As originally outlined, the proposal also included $160 billion in aid to state and local governments, as well as $17 billion in assistance for airlines, $288 billion for small businesses and an extension of unemployment benefits.

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