Senate GOP sticking with partisan virus relief plan

Sen. Mitch McConnell said he's sticking with a scaled-back COVID-19 relief bill that's already failed twice, even as those who are opposed offer concessions in hopes of passing something by the end of the year.


National News

December 2, 2020 - 9:28 AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens during a meeting with President Donald Trump on June 6, 2017 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said he’s largely sticking with a partisan, scaled-back COVID-19 relief bill that has already failed twice this fall, even as Democratic leaders and a bipartisan group of moderates offered concessions in hopes of passing pandemic aid before Congress adjourns for the year.

The Kentucky Republican made the announcement Tuesday after President-elect Joe Biden called upon lawmakers to pass a down payment relief bill now with more to come next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resumed talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about a year-end spending package that could include COVID-19 relief provisions. Key Senate moderates rallied behind a scaled-back framework.

It’s unclear whether the flurry of activity will lead to progress. Time is running out on Congress’ lame-duck session and Donald Trump’s presidency, many Republicans won’t even acknowledge that Trump has lost the election and good faith between the two parties remains in short supply. 

McConnell said that his bill, which only modestly tweaks an earlier plan blocked by Democrats, would be signed by Trump and that additional legislation could pass next year. But his initiative fell flat with Democrats and a key GOP moderate.

“If it’s identical to what (McConnell) brought forth this summer then it’s going to be a partisan bill that is not going to become law,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who joined moderates in unveiling a $908 billion bipartisan package only hours earlier. “And I want a bill that will become law.” 

Democrats declined to release details of their concessions to McConnell.

“Speaker Pelosi and I sent him the proposal in a good faith effort to start, to get him to negotiate in a bipartisan way,” Schumer said.

McConnell’s response was to convene conversations with the Trump team and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. During the campaign, Trump appeared eager to sign a relief bill and urged lawmakers to “go big” but McConnell said Tuesday’s modest measure is all he’ll go for now. 

“We don’t have time for messaging games. We don’t have time for lengthy negotiations,” McConnell said. “I would hope that this is something that could be signed into law by the president, be done quickly, deal with the things we can agree on now.” He added that there would still be talks about “some additional package of some size.”

McConnell’s reworked plan swiftly leaked. A summary ignores key demands of Democrats and moderates such as aid to states and local governments and additional unemployment benefits.

In Wilmington, Delaware, Biden called on lawmakers to approve a down payment on COVID-19 relief, though he cautioned that “any package passed in lame-duck session is — at best — just a start.”

And a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a split-the-difference solution to the protracted impasse over COVID-19 relief in a last-gasp effort to ship overdue help to a hurting nation before Congress adjourns for the holidays. It was a sign that some lawmakers across the spectrum are reluctant to adjourn for the year without approving some COVID-19 aid.

The group includes Senate centrists such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Collins, who hope to exert greater influence in a closely divided Congress during the incoming Biden administration. 

The proposal by the bipartisan group hit the scales at $908 billion, including $228 billion to extend and upgrade “paycheck protection” subsidies for businesses for a second round of relief to hard-hit businesses like restaurants. It would revive a special jobless benefit, but at a reduced level of $300 per week rather than the $600 benefit enacted in March. State and local governments would receive $160 billion, and there is also money for vaccines. 

Previous, larger versions of the proposal — a framework with only limited detail — were rejected by top leaders such as Pelosi, D-Calif., and McConnell. But pressure is building as lawmakers face the prospect of heading home for Christmas and New Year’s without delivering aid to people in need.

Lawmakers’ bipartisan effort comes after a split-decision election delivered the White House to Democrats and gave Republicans down-ballot success. At less than $1 trillion, it is less costly than a proposal meshed together by McConnell this summer. He later abandoned that effort for a considerably less costly measure that failed to advance in two attempts this fall.