US Congress Buys Itself More Time for COVID-19 Aid Compromise

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed Tuesday that lawmakers set aside two of the most contested elements of coronavirus government aid to break a month-long deadlock over a new round of congressional relief addressing the economic impact of the pandemic. “Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues?” McConnell said to reporters, referring to liability protections and aid for state and local governments. “We know we’re going to be confronted with another request after the first of the year. We’ll live to fight those another day and pass the things that we agree on,” the Kentucky Republican said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks to the media after the Republican’s weekly Senate luncheon, at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2020.Republicans have insisted that any new legislation include liability protections. They argue that a one-time shield from lawsuits is necessary for businesses, schools and churches to reopen safely without fear of financial damage. Meanwhile, Democrats have argued for their $2.4 trillion relief plan that includes far more direct aid for state and local governments than provided in the Republican proposal. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said McConnell’s offer would jeopardize the well-being of emergency workers on the front line who are most exposed to the coronavirus threat by severely limiting funding for their salaries. “Every governor and mayor across the country has been fighting to keep these people working, and McConnell is pulling the rug out from under them,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “When a worker is laid off from the state or local government, it’s no different than when a worker is laid off from a small business.” FILE – Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 1, 2020.With just days left in session this year, U.S. lawmakers have bought themselves one more week to negotiate on a second round of coronavirus aid. Congress is expected to pass a short-term spending bill later this week, extending funding for the U.S. government for seven days past a December 11 deadline. Lawmakers will likely link any agreement on coronavirus assistance to a longer-term extension of government funding to wrap up work so they can leave Washington ahead of the holidays and begin a new Congress early next year. Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has said that any aid negotiated in December would be “a down payment” on more aid that could be passed in the new Congress when he takes office on January 20. Lawmakers have remained deadlocked over a new round of aid, as numbers of coronavirus infections have surged to more than 200,000 cases per day in recent weeks. Many cities and states are reinstating restrictions to control the so-called third wave of coronavirus infections, jeopardizing the economic gains made in part by bipartisan passage of the $3 trillion CARES Act earlier this year. FILE – President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 4, 2020.Several key provisions of the last aid package are set to expire at the end of December, including enhanced unemployment insurance for 12 million people, student loan relief and rental eviction protections, keeping an estimated 40 million people in housing during the colder winter months. In a push for a second major package of relief measures, the Democrat-majority House of Representatives passed the $3.3 trillion HEROES Act in June. But McConnell and other congressional Republicans have criticized the Democrats’ aid proposal as overly expensive and instead argued for a slimmer, targeted package of aid. A bipartisan group of senators proposed a new $908 billion package of aid last week. Several congressional Republicans have also urged President Donald Trump to only sign legislation that includes a new round of stimulus checks for struggling Americans. Under the CARES Act, many Americans received checks of up to $1,200 to offset the impact of lost wages due to pandemic closures. Democrats have also expressed support for that proposal.  “I think another round of relief checks would help make sure that our economy doesn’t dip even deeper into a recession in the months that come between now and when we have the vaccine,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told cable news network MSNBC Tuesday. 

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