Growing enthusiasm in the halls of Congress for a bipartisan stimulus proposal gave lawmakers on Thursday more hope than in months for an early end to the boundless bipartisan blockade that has prevented more relief from reaching struggling Americans.
Republicans, who were warming to the idea of a $908 billion coronavirus measure, took the compromise as their starting point, and President Donald Trump urged Congress to reach an agreement.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not escape the controversy and continues to try to win support for a stimulus bill worth less than $500 billion – a narrow bailout bill that Republicans in the Senate have been trying to pass unsuccessfully for months.
“I will support what Senator McConnell is trying to propose, but it has no Democratic support,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidante. “I’m tired of playing showboat here.”
Privately and publicly, the Republicans involved in the nearly $1 trillion two-party plan are urging Kentucky Republicans to join them at the negotiating table and use their offer as a basis.
“If you see the people and the momentum moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), co-chair of the bipartisan problem-solving committee behind the $908 billion proposal, “then time will tell in a short time that we are in the area where we will land this plan.
Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), part of a bipartisan group of Senate members also involved in developing the plan, met with McConnell in his office near the Senate seat on Thursday afternoon to explain the details of the bill.
“No commitments back and forth,” Murkowski described the conversation to reporters, “just a kind of explanation and a passageway to where we stand.
Although McConnell made positive remarks about a deal at the beginning of the day – he said “it was encouraging to see some hopeful signs in the last few days” and that “a compromise is within reach” – the majority leader showed no willingness to support the bipartisan solution offered.
“[The Democrats] have tried to create a dynamic in which they move from an invented number to a second, somewhat smaller arbitrary number, and call this a significant concession,” McConnell said.
Another promising sign: According to the spokesman’s deputy chief of staff, Pelosi and McConnell spoke on the phone on Thursday afternoon about pandemic aid. In addition, Republicans in the Senate, who are further down the leadership ladder, seemed increasingly open to the non-partisan proposal.
Graham said he had “never been so hopeful that we would get a bill”.
“I like the effort,” added Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “It strikes the right balance of compromise, and it’s a number that’s doable.”
Of the $908 billion, only $348 billion is new money – a welcome sign for Republicans – while the rest comes from Cares Act funds. The provisions include temporary liability insurance, $180 billion for unemployment insurance, $288 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $160 billion for state and local governments, $25 billion for tenants, $4 billion for deferral of student loans, $82 billion for schools, and $16 billion for vaccine development, testing and tracking.
One of the biggest sticking points for Democrats is the protection of the labia, while Republicans do not support state and local aid. Overall, the bill is somewhere in the middle – both in terms of overall price and political language – of the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion package in the House of Representatives and the Republicans’ less than $500 billion plan in the Senate.
“They have many really good provisions, especially the [unemployment]plus-up and the redistribution of resources is good,” said Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), but was reluctant to comment on the idea of offering temporary federal liability protection against corona virus-related lawsuits while states make their own protections. “I think we need a bridge… This could be the bridge we need to return to a healthy population and economy.
On Wednesday, Pelosi and Schumer advocated the bipartisan proposal for the first time. In a joint statement, the Democrats proposed to use the law as a starting point for talks.
“In the spirit of compromise, we believe that the bipartisan framework introduced … should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan bipartisan negotiations,” they said.
Their language has not convinced some GOP senators who claimed that Pelosi and Schumer could use the $908 billion as a basis and further increase their offer.
Nevertheless, the president urged Congress to take action. He declared his support for McConnell’s targeted plan, but he also seemed to offer broader support to land any bipartisan legislation on his desk.
“I want to make it happen,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “And I think we’re very close to a deal.”
This story was updated with a commentary by Senator Graham.