Biden, Top Dems Support Virus Aid Bill 12/03 06:18
President-elect Joe Biden swung behind a bipartisan COVID-19 relief effort
and his top Capitol Hill allies cut their demands for a $2 trillion-plus
measure by more than half in hopes of breaking a monthslong logjam and
delivering much-sought aid as the tempestuous congressional session speeds to a
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Joe Biden swung behind a bipartisan
COVID-19 relief effort and his top Capitol Hill allies cut their demands for a
$2 trillion-plus measure by more than half in hopes of breaking a monthslong
logjam and delivering much-sought aid as the tempestuous congressional session
speeds to a close.
Biden said Wednesday the developing aid package "wouldn't be the answer, but
it would be the immediate help for a lot of things." He wants a relief bill to
pass Congress now, with more aid to come next year.
Biden's remarks followed an announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
D-Calif., and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer of New York in support of an
almost $1 trillion approach as the "basis" for discussions. The announcement
appeared aimed at budging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who so
far has been unwilling to abandon a $550 billion Senate GOP plan that has
failed twice this fall.
The Democrats embraced a $908 billion approach from moderate Sens. Joe
Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, among others. It would establish
a $300 per week jobless benefit, send $160 billion to help state and local
governments, boost schools and universities, revive popular "paycheck
protection" subsidies for businesses, and bail out transit systems and airlines.
"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," Pelosi and Schumer said. They said they would try to
build upon the approach, which has support in the House from a bipartisan
"problem solvers" coalition.
The statement was a significant concession by Pelosi and Schumer, who played
hardball this fall during failed preelection discussions with the
administration on a costlier bill. They wanted a more generous unemployment
benefit and far more for state and local government. Their embrace of the $908
billion measure was a retreat from a secret $1.3 trillion offer the two
Democrats gave McConnell just on Monday.
It's another sign of urgency for additional COVID aid and economic stimulus
as the economy struggles to recover from being slammed by the novel
coronavirus. While the jobless rate isn't as high as was feared, the restaurant
and airline industries are desperate for aid, as are other businesses, state
and local officials, transit systems and the Postal Service, among others.
The new plan includes a liability shield for businesses and other
organizations that have reopened their doors during the pandemic. It's the
first time Pelosi and Schumer have shown a willingness to consider the idea, a
top priority of McConnell, though there's been no discussion on the details,
which are sure to be tricky.
McConnell had dismissed the bipartisan offer on Tuesday, instead aiming to
rally Republicans around the $550 billion GOP proposal. But McConnell himself
endorsed a $1 trillion-or so plan this summer, only to encounter resistance
from conservatives that prompted him to retrench. He has acknowledged that
another infusion of aid to states and local governments, a key Pelosi demand,
probably will pass eventually.
McConnell wouldn't respond when asked about the Democratic statement. His
top deputy, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said GOP leaders might agree to merging
the bipartisan proposal with McConnell's bill.
"I think there's still time, although it's short, to put a bill together,"
Any relief package would be attached to a $1.4 trillion year-end spending
bill required to avert a government shutdown next weekend. Talks on that
measure are proceeding but if lawmakers should stumble, a temporary spending
bill would be needed as a bridge into next year.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a split-the-difference solution
to the protracted impasse, hoping to speed overdue help to a hurting nation
before Congress adjourns for the holidays. It was a sign that some lawmakers
reluctant to adjourn for the year without approving some pandemic aid.
Their proposal includes $228 billion to extend and upgrade "paycheck
protection" subsidies for businesses for a second round of relief to hard-hit
businesses such as restaurants. It would revive a special jobless benefit, but
at a reduced level of $300 per week rather than the $600 benefit enacted in
March. State and local governments would receive $160 billion.
There's also $45 billion for transportation, including aid to transit
systems and Amtrak; $82 billion to reopen schools and universities; and money
for vaccines and health care providers, as well as for food stamps, rental
assistance and the Postal Service.
The new effort follows a split-decision election that delivered the White
House to Democrats and gave Republicans down-ballot success.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin struggled over a relief bill
for weeks before the November election, discussing legislation of up to $2
trillion. Senate GOP conservatives opposed their efforts and Pelosi refused to
yield on key points.