Mitch McConnell speaks with Nancy Pelosi following an on Dec.8, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited her fellow congressional leaders to a meeting Tuesday to try to strike deals to fund the government and send another round of coronavirus relief, a source familiar with her outreach said.
The California Democrat aims to huddle with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as Congress runs out of time to address both issues. Absent congressional action, government funding will lapse Saturday and 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas.
The meeting would mark the most significant effort yet for the four leaders to come to a bipartisan agreement on a package that could get through a divided Congress. It is unclear now whether all of the congressional leaders will agree to talk Tuesday.
Congress has failed for months to send new assistance as the pandemic stretches the health-care system’s capacity and leaves millions of Americans scrambling to find a meal and pay their rent. The imminent expiration of financial lifelines, a weakening economy and the need for money to ensure Covid-19 vaccines get to health-care workers and elderly Americans have forced lawmakers to once and for all seek a compromise.
A rank-and-file bipartisan group of senators and representatives has played a role in pushing congressional leaders closer to crafting a relief package. The lawmakers released a plan Monday that would put more than $700 billion into small business loans, unemployment insurance, vaccine distribution, education and rental assistance.
Negotiators in the group urged their party leaders to pass the bill outright or at least use it as a template for a final agreement.
It would extend the pandemic-era jobless benefits programs buoying 12 million people and add a $300 per week federal unemployment supplement for 16 weeks. It would also keep a federal eviction moratorium in place for another month, through Jan. 31, and extend federal student loan forbearance through April 1.
It would not include direct payments, which many lawmakers have called crucial to providing enough help to struggling families. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., have insisted on Congress putting a second $1,200 stimulus check in an aid bill.
The full bipartisan group did not sign off on a separate piece of the proposal that addresses liability protections for businesses and state and local government relief — two issues that have repeatedly blocked progress toward a deal. McConnell has urged Congress to put both provisions aside for now.
Still, Pelosi and Schumer have called money for state and local governments essential to preserve public-sector jobs.
Despite the disagreements, congressional leaders have insisted they would not leave for the holidays without approving an emergency aid package. They hope to tie relief provisions to a government spending bill, which appropriators could release as soon as Tuesday.
Democrats have cast any coronavirus assistance bill they would pass this week as a down payment until President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
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