NBC News (WASHINGTON) — Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, will support using the pared-back $908 billion Covid-19 aid package that was crafted by a group of bipartisan lawmakers as the basis for an ultimate deal.
Their support renews hope that Congress could approve aid before the end of the year. The proposal would provide an extra $300 in unemployment payments and extend help to cash-strapped local governments, as well as provide support for small businesses and transit systems and airlines.
The Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider the proposal, a concession by Pelosi and Schumer, who had been pushing for a package more than twice as large.
In a joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer said, "While we made a new offer to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy on Monday, in the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations."
"Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement."
The Democrats’ support puts pressure on McConnell to return to the negotiating table in earnest as lawmakers from both parties are eager to get some sort of relief passed before they leave Washington for the holidays — leaving just days for the lame-duck Congress to come to an agreement.
So far, McConnell has indicated that he preferred to keep the coronavirus spending closer to the GOP's earlier proposal of $550 billion, and has said that he planned to attach any Covid-19 agreement to a government funding bill ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a shutdown.
"Given the challenges of moving things across the Senate floor speedily, that would be a vehicle to add on whatever coronavirus relief bill we know will get a presidential signature," McConnell told reporters. "Obviously, as was discussed earlier, you have to have Democratic votes to get through the House. I think it will all likely come in one package."
The bipartisan plan introduced on Tuesday was supported by a number of moderate Senators, including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Mark Warner, D-Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Bill Cassidy, R-La., among others.
The proposal includes liability protections for businesses that remain open during the pandemic, a provision has been a non-starter for Pelosi and Schumer in the past.
The package excludes another round of the $1,200 direct payments that were sent out under the CARES Act in March.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told reporters on Wednesday that he thought the bipartisan plan could gain support from Senate Republicans, but cautioned that "we're also looking at Senator McConnell's [plan]. So we're kind for working through to see where the support is. And then you gotta remember, we have to be talking to the administration to make sure it's something that they'll support, as well as the House."
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., called the statement from Pelosi and Schumer "progress," but also indicated that the party was not ready to abandon McConnell's proposal.
"At some point, hopefully we'll be able to find the common ground and maybe we can merge those [plans]," he said.
While White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that stimulus relief was a "policy priority" for the administration, it is unclear what President Donald Trump will be willing to support in the final few weeks of his term. McConnell said Tuesday that he was working with the White House to see what the president will sign.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.J., a bipartisan duo that helped craft the plan, thanked Pelosi and Schumer, calling their support "a much-needed step in the right direction."
"We thank Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer for recognizing the critical need for a bipartisan, bicameral emergency COVID-19 relief package," they said.