COVID-19 relief picks up steam


Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held talks on Thursday about reaching a COVID-19 relief deal before Christmas, with both expressing a desire to quickly pass legislation, according to a senior aide to Pelosi.

“The Speaker and Leader McConnell spoke at 12:45 p.m. today by phone about their shared commitment to completing an omnibus and COVID relief as soon as possible,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Pelosi told reporters “we will have an agreement” on coronavirus package funding by Dec. 11, the date government funding is set to expire.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that additional COVID-19 relief funding would likely be added to the expected $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package that would fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11 through fiscal 2021, which ends on Sept. 30.

Shortly before that conversation, McConnell met with a group of Senate Republican moderates who support a compromise $908 billion coronavirus relief bill that would include $160 billion in funding for state and local governments, a sticking point for many conservatives, including McConnell.

The compromise proposal, which was unveiled Tuesday by moderate Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House, also would provide $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance, $288 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses access to loans, and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution and virus testing and tracing.

Four GOP senators — Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Bill Cassidy (La.) — presented the proposal to McConnell in his Capitol office.

"We described the nature of our proposal and what he had seen before, of course, was a number for state and local of $160 billion. And, and we described how it would be allocated how it would be distributed, some portions based on population, some portion based on the revenue gap that might exist for a locality, and so forth,” Romney later told reporters, summarizing the meeting.

“So we went through the particulars that we're describing as well as listen to his thoughts about liability coverage,” he added.

Romney, however, said moderate Republicans and the GOP leader didn’t discuss potential concerns about the overall price tag. He also declined to say whether McConnell indicated whether he would be willing to schedule a vote on the measure.

McConnell on Thursday morning said on the Senate floor “compromise is within reach.”

“We know where we agree. We can do this. Let me say it again. We can do this. And we need to do this,” he said.

McConnell made similar comments earlier in the week.

“I think the one thing we all agree on, as I’ve said, is waiting for next year is not an answer. We need a targeted relief bill, including things we can agree on,” he told reporters Tuesday.

President Trump on Thursday said he would sign a coronavirus relief deal if Congress can put one together by year’s end.

"I want it to happen, and I believe they're getting very close to a deal," Trump said in the Oval Office after awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former football coach Lou Holtz.

Asked if he would support a deal, Trump replied, "I will."

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