WASHINGTON D.C. — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is putting pressure on congressional leaders to accept a split-the-difference solution to the protracted impasse over COVID-19 relief in a last-gasp effort provide aid before Congress adjourns for the holidays.
The group includes Senate centrists such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who hope to exert greater influence in a closely divided Congress during the incoming Biden administration.
In Wilmington, Delaware, President-elect Joe Biden called on lawmakers to approve a down payment on COVID relief. He also warned that “any package passed in lame-duck session is — at best — just a start.”
The proposal 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.
It comes after a split-decision election delivered the White House to Democrats and gave Republicans down-ballot success.
“It’s not a time for political brinkmanship,” Manchin said. “Emergency relief is needed now more than ever before. The people need to know that we are not going to leave until we get something accomplished.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the GOP leadership, gave a tentative thumbs up to the idea, though he said time is running out and working against it.
“I think $900 billion would do a lot more good right now than $2 trillion will do in March,” Blunt said. “This is an important time to step up if we can.”
The pressure comes as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to reconvene their conversations about COVID relief and other end-of-session items, including a $1.4 trillion catchall government funding bill, as the Trump administration comes to a close.
$455 BILLION IN UNUSED FUNDS
Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell are testified before a Senate committee Tuesday on coronavirus pandemic assistance, NewsNation Now reported.
In pre-released prepared testimony, Mnuchin is expected to urge Congress to tap into $455 billion of unused emergency relief funds for another round of targeted aid for American households and businesses.
“Based on recent economic data, I continue to believe that a targeted fiscal package is the most appropriate federal response,” Mnuchin wrote in his prepared statement for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “I strongly encourage Congress to use the $455 billion in unused funds from the CARES Act to pass an additional bill with bipartisan support.”
He added that President Donald Trump’s administration “is ready to support Congress in this effort to help American workers and small businesses that continue to struggle with the impact of COVID-19.”
Capitol Hill’s main players returned this week for one final attempt at deal-making on a challenging menu of year-end business. The only absolute must-do business is preventing a government shutdown when a temporary spending bill expires on Dec. 11.
The route preferred by top lawmakers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is to agree upon and pass an omnibus spending bill for the government. But it may be difficult to overcome bitter divisions regarding a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package that’s a top priority of business, state and local governments, educators and others.
The Senate committee hearing Tuesday is part of a quarterly report to Congress on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the U.S. government’s more than $2 trillion relief package to help businesses, workers and a health care system staggered by the pandemic.
The legislation was signed into law in March, and both Democrats and Republicans are pushing for a fresh installment of coronavirus relief. But such aid remains out of reach as negotiations have stalled and compromises have yet to be reached.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to warn Congress Tuesday about challenges presented by a spike in new COVID-19 cases, according to his pre-released remarks.
“The rise in new COVID-19 cases, both here and abroad, is concerning and could prove challenging for the next few months,” Powell wrote in his prepared testimony. “A full economic recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.”
Powell said while progress on developing vaccines had been “very positive,” significant challenges remained regarding the timing, production and distribution of the vaccines, and it remained difficult to assess the economic implications of this process with any degree of confidence.
Earlier on Monday, the Fed and Treasury announced as expected that four other lending facilities that do not utilize CARES Act funds would be extended through next March. Those facilities helped to stabilize short-term funding markets when the coronavirus hit last spring, sending shockwaves through the financial system.
The four Fed loan programs that were extended included the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, which provided critical support for the market that supplies short-term corporate IOUs. Also extended was operation of the Money Market Fund Liquidity Facility, which helped to prevent potential runs on money-market mutual funds.
Following their appearance Tuesday, Powell and Mnuchin are scheduled to testify Wednesday at an oversight hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee.
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