COVID-19 stimulus talks stall — again

Sen. Mitch McConnell puts the brakes on growing momentum for coronavirus relief with refusal to bail out states.


National News

December 9, 2020 - 9:36 AM

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Photo by (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tapped the brakes Tuesday on growing momentum for another coronavirus relief package, claiming he’ll only drop his most unpopular policy proposal if Democrats agree to give up their demand for budgetary bailouts for states.

McConnell, the top Republican on Capitol Hill, added the latest tit-for-tat to the harried stimulus talks after lunching with fellow GOP senators, some of whom have come out in support of a bipartisan $908 billion relief package that includes bailouts for cash-strapped states, including New York.

But in McConnell’s view, the budgetary aid should be cut because he claims the states’ leaders, not the pandemic, are to blame for the financial woes.

If Democrats agree to scrap state budget aid, McConnell told reporters he would scratch his demand for a liability provision to shield corporations and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

“Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues,” McConnell said, adding that Congress should rally behind a slimmer stimulus measure and push negotiations over the liability and state aid issues into next year. “We know we’re going to be confronted with another request after the first of the year. We’ll live to fight those another day.”

Democrats were not convinced.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who are leading stimulus talks for the Democrats, made a major concession last week in getting onboard with the $908 billion proposal, thereby cutting their proposed stimulus price-tag in half.

Passing a stimulus without any aid for states is completely out of the question, Schumer said.

“Sen. McConnell has put the jobs of firefighters, ambulance workers, sanitation officers and police officers in jeopardy,” the New York Democrat said, listing off some categories of workers whose salaries are paid by state and local governments. “Every governor and mayor across the country has been fighting to keep these people working, and McConnell is pulling the rug out from under them.”

Pelosi piled on. “What does Leader McConnell have against our heroes?” she said.

Despite McConnell’s bickering, a growing list of rank-and-file lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are getting behind the $908 billion stimulus measure, which would renew soon-to-expire federal unemployment benefits; provide some state bailouts; bankroll distribution of COVID-19 vaccines; fill up a popular small business loan program; and provide limited business liability protections, among other provisions.

But Congress is facing a tight deadline to get the stimulus done and McConnell’s consent is ultimately mandatory — not to mention the fact that lawmakers also have to avert a looming government shutdown.

The federal government runs out of funding Friday at midnight, meaning the House, the Senate and President Donald Trump need to all agree on annual spending legislation by then to avoid a shutdown.

Meantime, any stimulus bill would likely have to be signed, sealed and delivered by Dec. 18, when Congress is supposed to recess for the rest of the year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long said New York needs upward of $70 billion in aid for state and local governments in order to cover enormous budgetary holes caused by the pandemic.

If aid doesn’t come soon, Cuomo says, mass layoffs will likely ensue.

Similar situations are unfolding in other states, especially as the pandemic is resurging, with infection rates spiking countrywide and the death toll approaching 280,000.

But McConnell claims budgetary relief would amount to “blue state bailouts” because some of the most hard-hit states are governed by Democrats.

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