Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed confidence on Dec. 15 that talks about the next round of pandemic relief are nearing a successful conclusion.
Lawmakers face a Dec. 18 deadline to pass the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that will avert a government shutdown, with McConnell calling for CCP virus relief to be rolled into that package.
Speaking at a press conference, McConnell said the Senate won’t adjourn until a deal is reached on CCP virus relief.
“We’re not leaving here without a COVID package,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”
“I’ve been saying it for weeks, and you’ve been listening to me saying for weeks, let’s put aside the things we can’t agree on and do the things we can,” he said, noting that the most divisive issues are liability protections for businesses and organizations, as well as aid to state and local governments.
“The way forward, obviously, is to put aside the two things that are the most contentious on each side—liability protection, and state and local,” he said, adding that he hopes a deal that has the backing of Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and the White House, will be part of the omnibus bill.
“We’re making significant progress, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” McConnell told reporters late on Dec. 15, Fox News reported.
Pelosi spoke with President Donald Trump’s top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, by phone on Dec. 15 for about 20 minutes, including on COVID-19 aid, her spokesperson said. He said both sides acknowledged the urgency of reaching a final agreement on relief this week, although differences remain on liability provisions and state and local funding.
Just before midnight, Pelosi spoke to reporters and sounded optimistic about the talks.
“We’re all here late … and tomorrow, we’ll be back early and we’ll be on schedule to get the job done,” she said, according to Fox News.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Dec. 16 “that negotiations went through the night.”
“Leader McConnell has been very clear with all of us that we are going to pass some kind of stimulus relief package before we go home for the holidays,” he said. “I’m optimistic we are going to see a package announced this morning.”
For months, McConnell pushed a $500 billion approach that Democrats rejected as inadequate, while Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) previously sought a $2.2 trillion bill that McConnell dismissed. The White House went up to about $1.9 trillion during the height of the negotiation process.
While the price tag of the package expected to be finalized this week is unclear, the basis for the deal is a $908 billion COVID-19 relief plan put forward by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who on Dec. 14 unveiled further details of their proposal.
The first part is a $748 billion proposal that focuses on areas of agreement, such as nearly $300 billion in aid for small businesses, $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits, and more funding for distribution of the CCP virus vaccine and testing.
A separate $160 billion includes state aid sought by Democrats, as well as liability provisions that Republicans have sought as part of a relief package.