Bipartisan group of senators releases $908bn Covid relief bill proposal without funds for more stimulus checks

Majority of funding would be repurposed from CARES Act signed in March

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Tuesday 01 December 2020 21:10
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Senators Introduce Bipartisan COVID-19 Relief Bill
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A bipartisan group of senators has unveiled a compromise $908bn (£677bn) coronavirus relief bill.

The Republican and Democrat lawmakers have been meeting every day for weeks, including during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, trying to break the impasse between the two parties.

As Covid-19 surges and spreads uncontrolled over much of the country, the Covid Emergency Relief Framework includes provisions to help small businesses, state and local governments, and to pay for unemployment insurance.

There are no funds designated for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals as with the first relief package earlier in the year.

It is believed that this is to keep the total price tag down to appease Republicans lawmakers worried about too great an increase in the level of national debt.

However, $560bn of the total funding would be repurposed from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in March. The actual new money is $348bn (£260bn).

The new bill is unlikely to move forward in its current state, as the dollar amount is far less than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would like, and far more than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would want.

Mr McConnell has said $500bn would be more acceptable, while House Democrats have a figure in excess of $2 trillion in mind.

It is nonetheless a framework within which the leaders may be able to work, and lawmakers hope it could break the months-long stalemate.

At the launch of the bipartisan bill, Mitt Romney said: “I happen to be a deficit hawk. I don’t like borrowing money. I don’t like spending money we don’t have. But the time to borrow money ... is when there’s a crisis, and this is a crisis.”

He continued: "We want to help people at this particular time. And so we’ve come together, and we’ve been very careful. This is not a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill. This is a relief measure – half that amount."

Headline figures reveal $160bn earmarked for state, local, and tribal governments, $180bn for additional unemployment insurance, and $288bn to support small businesses and restaurants. A further $82bn would be for education, $45bn for transportation, and $35bn for the Healthcare Provider Relief Fund.

The bill will also provide short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits so that states have time to develop their own legislation on the matter – something that Republican lawmakers had been pushing for.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr McConnell said at a press conference that he had been speaking with Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about another new proposal.

While he did not outline any details when speaking to reporters, a copy of the new plan obtained by Axios includes a fresh round of funding and improvements for the small business Paycheck Protection Program, as well as the implementation of widespread liability protections.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance would be extended until 31 January 2021 and then phased out; a grant program for shuttered live venues and theatres would be introduced; and more assistance would be rolled out for the postal service, education, and the stockpiling of medical equipment.

If any bill is to move forward it has to move quickly, as lawmakers are scheduled to begin leaving for the year next week.

Democrat senator Joe Manchin said it would be “inexcusable” for politicians to clock off for the year without ensuring Americans had more relief funding to cope with the pandemic.

Mark Warner of Virginia echoed Mr Manchin’s comments, saying it would be “stupidity on steroids” to do so.

According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Tuesday morning, there have been 13.55 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and more than 268,000 officially recorded deaths.

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