Some Democrats open door to smaller coronavirus relief deal

Megan Henney
·3 min read

Some Democratic lawmakers opened the door this week to a smaller coronavirus relief deal as Congress faces growing pressure to pass an aid package before the end of the year.

Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have maintained for months that at least $2.2 trillion is needed for American workers and businesses still reeling from the pandemic, some top Democrats have suggested that a smaller aid package to tide over the economy until President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20 would be better than nothing.

"I just hope that we can get agreement. It may not be everything that everybody wants but at least if we can get some significant relief to people," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call. "And then we're going to be here next year. If we need to do other things, we'll do other things.”

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Negotiations on Capitol Hill have been stalled for months despite seemingly endless meetings between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and with just eight legislative days left on their calendar, it's unclear whether lawmakers will be able to reach an agreement before year's end.

The deadlock comes at an increasingly perilous time for the nation as it teeters on the brink of another downturn: COVID-19 infections are surging, state and local governments are implementing more restriction measures, new unemployment insurance claims rose last week, and key support programs are set to expire on Dec. 31.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close Biden ally, said this week he was willing to support a bill worth less than $2.2 trillion – though he argued that a more targeted, $500 billion proposal from Senate Republicans was inadequate.

“To me, it’s less about exactly what dollar amount than it is what are the areas where we’re providing some relief,” Coons told The Hill. “I think we ought to be doing a broad package that provides support to small businesses through another round of PPP, to schools, to public health agencies to prepare for vaccine distribution."

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat, echoed that sentiment during a recent CNN interview: "Let's get something done that is significant, do what we can achieve now," he said.

There is broad support in both parties for a deal in the lame-duck session, the period after Election Day but before Congress adjourns for the year. But lawmakers remain confounded by key policy differences, including funding for a virus testing plan, aid to state and local governments and tax cuts for low- and middle-income families.

Talks last week between Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who favors a $500 billion package, did not produce any agreement.

“There hasn’t been a bigger need for it in a long, long time here,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week, his latest appeal to Congress and the White House regarding another stimulus package.

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