“I assure you, we’re not leaving until we finish this package,” McConnell said during a press briefing Tuesday, as congressional leaders were heading into a meeting with the hope of reaching an agreement on a new round of pandemic aid for Americans.
McConnell suggested that the deal is likely to leave out the two “most contentious items” that have been holding up the negotiations so far, which are additional aid for state and local governments and liability protections from pandemic-related lawsuits for businesses.
“Let’s put aside the things we can’t agree on and do the things we can,” McConnell said. “That’s just another good argument to get it done to get it done now.”
Following months of stalled talks in Washington about a new relief package, the Tuesday afternoon meeting is the first to involve all key congressional leaders and government officials, including McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Pelosi echoed McConnell last week in saying that the lawmakers would not leave even after Christmas until they reach an agreement. A new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3.
“Now if we need more time then we take more time, but we have to have a bill and we cannot go home without it,” Pelosi said.
The Tuesday meeting comes as a $908 billion package appears to be gaining bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress. It is embraced by Democratic leaders such as Pelosi and Schumer, as well as some Republicans including as Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The package does not provide for a second round of direct payments to Americans.
Meanwhile, McConnell came up with a narrower relief plan of about $500 billion, including $332.7 billion to small businesses, $105 billion for schools, and $31 billion for vaccine distribution, therapeutics, and medical supplies. His plan does not include additional federal unemployment benefits or direct payments for Americans.
Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) proposed a standalone bill to provide the same supplementary federal benefits that 80 million Americans received earlier this year under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Each individual will receive a one-time cash payment of $1,200, married couples will get up to $2,400, plus $500 per child under age 17.
“It’s time Congress finally acts,” Hawley said in a statement. “Americans need direct payments now. Families are struggling. Unemployment claims are rising and food lines are growing.”