- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Capitol Hill leaders on Wednesday were on the precipice of a $900 billion coronavirus relief deal, the first major bipartisan package on track for a vote since the spring.

The deal in the works included another round of direct payments to individuals and families, according to details leaked from the closed-door talks.

The package would leave out the two most contentious issues — funds for state and local government and liability protections for businesses, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The seven-month logjam finally started to break after the “Four Corners” — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — worked late into the night Tuesday on the deal, which includes a full-year spending bill to fund the government.

Leaders from both parties were optimistic, though there is not a final timeline for an agreement.

“We remain committed to continuing these urgent discussions until we have an agreement,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “We will not leave town until we’ve made law.”

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, echoed the optimism, saying “it’s not a done deal yet. But we are very close.”

The negotiations were ongoing and the final product could change.

The deal is expected to include a round of $600 or $700 stimulus checks — double that for families and children — and a $300 boost to weekly unemployment checks, said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

The Republican’s priority of business-liability protections from coronavirus lawsuits and Democrats’ priority of funds for state and local government were put on hold.

But Democrats said they found other avenues to secure some of the aid they wanted for state and city governments whose tax revenue was hard hit by the coronavirus shutdowns. Though Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, reportedly told her members that they’d fight for more aid once President-Elect Joseph R. Biden takes office.

Some help could come in the form of a $90 billion FEMA disaster relief fund for states and cities, which would come with strict restrictions on how the funds can be used.

It might be a hard sell to GOP senators who oppose a bailout of Democrat-run states and cities whose budget woes predate the pandemic.

“If it’s simply a way of disguising money for state and local governments, we’ll have a lot of opposition,” Mr. Thune said, noting that some members also might not be pleased with the unemployment payments or stimulus checks.

On the other hand, some rank-and-file Democrats were unhappy with the broad outlines of the deal, specifically with state and local funds being cut out and the stimulus payments that were far less than the $1,200 on the table earlier this year.

“Republicans managed to pair corporate liability protection with state and local government support. An invidious pairing,” tweeted Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat. “Sadly we’re about to buy into that and sacrifice all the life-saving services local government provides our constituents. This is a Faustian bargain.”

But Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said he expects to have widespread support for the final deal.

Senators who spearheaded a $908 billion bipartisan compromise celebrated the news of a pending deal, saying their proposal moved the needle.

“I think that the work that our bipartisan group did really helped to stimulate this, these negotiations and gave them a framework, which had been thoroughly vetted, and it’s bipartisan and bicameral, to work with,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican involved in the bipartisan proposal. “So, I’m cautiously optimistic that maybe we will be able to finish up by the end of this week.”

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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