McConnell Rejects Bipartisan COVID Relief Plan While House Adjourns Until Next Week

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Congress appears to be making little concrete progress toward agreeing to a coronavirus relief agreement.
  • Lawmakers hope to approve more aid before lifelines expire at the end of the month, but issues including state and local aid, liability protections, unemployment assistance and stimulus checks are still dividing Congress.
  • Lawmakers plan to pass a one-week government funding extension through Dec. 18 in order to buy more time to craft a pandemic rescue package and spending plan.

Few signs of progress toward a coronavirus relief deal emerged Thursday as Congress inches closer to letting millions of Americans fall deeper into financial peril.

They will have to wait longer for Washington to figure out how to help them. After votes Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told representatives the chamber would adjourn until at least Tuesday pending an agreement on pandemic aid and full-year government funding.

The House's move to end work for the week came as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's staff informed congressional leadership offices that Senate Republicans likely would not support a $908 billion bipartisan proposal, according to NBC News. Politico first reported the Kentucky Republican's plan to brush aside the plan, which members of his caucus have helped to craft.

Congressional leaders continue to stress the importance of approving a rescue package in the coming days to prevent about 12 million Americans from losing unemployment benefits and stop families across the country from getting tossed out of their homes.

Despite a flurry of activity to try to reach a deal, lawmakers still have not resolved disputes that have driven months of failure to respond to a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis. It remains unclear what kind of package could garner the support of both the GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic-held House.

On Thursday, Democrats again endorsed the bipartisan talks. Those discussions, however, still have not yielded legislation as lawmakers finalize provisions related to state and local government relief and GOP-backed legal immunity for businesses. NBC News reported that the group agreed Thursday afternoon on how to distribute $160 billion in state and local funds, but has not resolved questions about legal immunity.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the bipartisan negotiations as "the only real game in town" to craft a bill that could get through a divided Congress. He contended McConnell has tried to trip up those talks in favor of a plan that includes only policies Republicans support.

McConnell targeted Democrats on Thursday for what he called efforts to delay new relief. He has backed more narrow legislation of about $500 billion, which would be based around Paycheck Protection Program small business loans. It would not include additional federal unemployment benefits or direct payments.

McConnell offered this week to drop liability protections and state and local aid from talks. Democrats rejected the trade-off due to worries that states or cities will have to lay off first responders and teachers without more federal help. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also shot down a $916 billion offer from the Trump administration because it did not include a federal jobless benefit supplement.

McConnell on Thursday said he hopes "our colleagues let Congress deliver more help soon."

"A lot of Americans simply can't afford to wait," he said.

The bickering on Capitol Hill over how much money to send to desperate Americans followed more troubling economic news. Initial jobless claims jumped to 853,000 last week, the highest since September. About 19 million people are still receiving some form of unemployment benefits as millions of people line up at food banks around the country.

The increase in people seeking jobless aid follows new state and city economic restrictions designed to slow the spread of a virus killing Americans at an unprecedented rate. The U.S. recorded 3,124 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday in the deadliest single day of the pandemic in America.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2020.
Erin Scott | Reuters
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2020.

Pelosi, flanked Thursday by a poster highlighting that the roughly 290,000 American fatalities from COVID-19 have nearly surpassed U.S. combat deaths in World War II, backed the developing bipartisan relief plan as an "emergency" bridge to the Biden administration and vaccine deployment.

"We cannot leave here without having a piece of legislation," both to send pandemic aid and fund the government, she told reporters. The House has passed a one-week federal spending extension to avoid a shutdown through Dec. 18, and the Senate is set to approve it as soon as Thursday.

Lawmakers hope to buy more time to reach agreement on a pandemic rescue plan and government funding. Pelosi reiterated that she hopes to package both measures into one piece of legislation.

She suggested Congress could stick around longer if it fails to strike a deal by the 18th.

"We've been here after Christmas, you know," she said.

Earlier Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told CNBC that he thinks Congress can reach a deal by next week.

"It will have been late," he added.

Mnuchin briefed both McCarthy and McConnell on the White House's latest relief plan before he presented it to Pelosi this week. It would include both liability protections for businesses and state and local support. The proposal would temporarily extend pandemic programs expanding eligibility for unemployment insurance, which expire at the end of the month.

However, it would send Americans a one-time $600 payment and offer no federal unemployment supplement. Democrats have supported both a $1,200 stimulus check and an enhanced jobless benefit.

The developing bipartisan plan would add $300 per week to jobless benefits for four months. But it would not include a direct payment.

The lack of an immediate cash injection has led many progressives and some Republicans in Congress to criticize the proposal as inadequate to address the needs of struggling Americans. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced a bill Thursday to provide another round of $1,200 stimulus payments.

"Families are lining up for miles at food banks and millions could soon be evicted," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., tweeted Thursday. "Any package must put money in people's pockets."

The proposal would also put about $300 billion into small business aid and $160 billion into state and local relief. It includes money for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, schools and the transportation sector, among a bevy of other measures.

Critics have also targeted the plan because it does not include aid targeted specifically to the restaurant industry or an extension of coronavirus-related paid family and medical leave.

The proposal still has to become legislative text. Lawmakers have not been able to write a bill because of lingering disagreements.

Pelosi on Thursday urged the bipartisan negotiators not to adopt McConnell's proposal on legal immunity, which she called "an assault on American workers."

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