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Thursday, December 3, opened with a report that outgoing President Trump acknowledging that he would sign a coronavirus relief package if Congress can broker a deal in the coming weeks after months of partisan-driven deadlock. “I want it to happen, and I believe they’re getting very close to a deal,” Trump said, having previously urged Congress to “go big” on coronavirus relief. But he does not appear to be playing an active role in negotiations or in the broader pandemic response as his time in the White House ticks down.
With the political will for action intensifying, House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader McConnell held talks on Thursday, with both expressing a desire to have a second stimulus package in place by December 11, the date that government funding expires. Reports suggest that the compromise proposal brought forth in recent days by an informal group of moderate Republicans and Democrats has provided the impetus for this new flurry of activity. The compromise package comes with a price tag of about $908 billion, down from the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act that the Democrats had proposed and up significantly from the “targeted relief” package of $500 billion that the Republicans have been pushing.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell was optimistic, announcing that “compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this,” he continued. “Let me say it again. We can do this. And we need to do this.”
Later that same day, President-elect Biden “described the $900 billion congressional stimulus proposal as a “good start” and said he believed Congress should pass it.” Biden went on to state that “any package passed in [the] lame-duck session is — at best — just a start,” and that he would be asking for more work on COVID relief once he is inaugurated on January 21, 2020.
Political pundits are quick to note that Biden and McConnell have a long relationship that includes negotiating several year-end financial packages during Biden’s vice presidency in the Obama administration.
The week of December 8 opened with fear that the Senate was considering a compromise to the compromise package that would not include individual stimulus checks, focusing instead on providing support to state and local governments, corporations and small businesses, and farmers. Senator Bernie Sanders joined several other progressive senators to fit $1,200 stimulus checks into the relief plan with conditions like those outlined previously in the CARES Act.
Several Senators agree with Sanders. Republican Senator Josh Hawley, for example, said that he has “encouraged [President] Trump to veto any bill that doesn’t include direct payments.”
Reports suggest that the Republicans are determined to keep the final price tag of a second stimulus package under $1 trillion. Adding a second round of $1,200 checks would likely push the total cost above that threshold, leaving the GOP unclear on what might be trimmed from the proposed package to bring the overall cost back in line.
With daily COVID-19 cases now hovering around the 200,000 mark, and with more than 275,000 Americans dead from the virus, the pressure is increasing to get checks moving before the new year. But as the clock ticks down on 2020, it appears that even the compromise package is beginning to lose traction.
Watch this blog for updates as they appear.