Capitol Hill is finally seeing some compromise in stimulus negotiations amid the colossal surge in coronavirus cases and deaths and after months of inconclusive talks and disagreements, resulting in a partisan stalemate.
Just at the beginning of the week, there was much uncertainty about whether the United States would see another round of federal relief before the new year as top negotiators from both sides of the aisle refused to compromise.
Fast forward to Friday, and the country, including struggling unemployed Americans and shuttered small businesses, could get a real stimulus by Christmas.
“There is momentum,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Friday. “I am pleased that the tone of our conversation is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”
Pelosi’s remarks come after a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus proposal earlier in the week—a spending bill that nearly doubles Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) price tag of $500 billion and splits the House Democratic multi-trillion-dollar bill in half.
The bipartisan group is slated to present their package in writing by Monday, a deadline that bipartisan lawmakers are working towards.
Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) are collaborating to work through the liability protections section, according to CNN—a top priority for McConnell and GOP senators, but avidly opposed by Democrats. Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are working on getting through state and local government aid and are trying to establish a maximum cap at how much a certain state could receive. Moreover, other aides are finalizing funds provided through the Payment Protection Program (PPP), as reported by the network, that will help fight the economic turmoil that’s flooded millions of businesses across the country.
The need for stimulus has ballooned for months, as much of the aid from the Cares Act has already expired, leaving millions of Americans financially empty-handed.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics only adds to dire urgency to reach an agreement, as the U.S. economy added only 245,000 jobs in November, while economists predicted the economy would generate around 440,000. Although the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the figures indicate yet another month of slowed down employment gains.
“The disappointing November jobs report underlines the urgent need for additional relief and stimulus,” Alan D. Viard, economist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said.
The bipartisan framework includes $300 weekly jobless benefits that would last through March and a continuation of a temporary pause in student loan payments. Other measures also include an eviction moratorium; billions of dollars in aid for small businesses, restaurants and theaters through the PPP; and extended unemployment programs for gig workers. Finally, the proposal includes $16 billion for coronavirus vaccine distribution, testing and tracing. The measure does not, however, include another round of stimulus checks to keep the cost of the stimulus bill down and under the Senate Republican price cap of $1 trillion.
More than a dozen members from the House and Senate convened to draft the legislation like GOP senators Romney, Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Susan Collins (Maine), as well as Democratic Senators Manchin, Durbin, Chris Coons (Del.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.). There are also several Republicans who have expressed their positive considerations on the bipartisan push, such as Sens. Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and John Thune (S.D.).
The optimism also reaches across the aisle, as top congressional Democrats offered their support for the proposal on Wednesday, signaling a huge concession with the intent to push White House negotiators and GOP Senators to finally strike a deal.
“In the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.
While it is perhaps the only option on the negotiating table, there is a looming fear that Pelosi or McConnell would reject the legislation in the future.
On Thursday on the Senate floor, McConnell did not embrace the compromise plan. Instead, he noted that a deal is “within reach” and instead brought up the slimmed-down GOP bill that focuses on sectors of the dwindling economy. But according to CNN, the majority leader said he’d like to see a proposal on Monday.
Despite potential congressional hurdles, members are fighting to strike a deal, with the ongoing pandemic and overwhelmed hospital capacity fueling the determination to get a bill passed.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.