Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called himself the “grim reaper,” relishing his role in killing off the legislative priorities of Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
McConnell may have swung his scythe again, as his staff reportedly told congressional leaders Wednesday night that Senate Republicans likely would not support the $908 billion Covid-relief package being negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Two issues have proved to be major sticking points in reaching any deal on additional aid: money to help state and local governments, which Democrats want but Republicans have resisted, and legal protections for businesses, hospitals and schools against coronavirus-related lawsuits, a priority for Republicans that Democrats reject.
McConnell earlier this week suggested dropping both provisions and proceeding with a narrower package, but Democratic leaders quickly dismissed the idea and said that the ongoing bipartisan talks on a compromise package represented the best hope for a deal.
“What McConnell is putting forth in terms of liability is such an assault on American workers that I hope that the group goes nowhere near what he is presenting,” Pelosi told reporters.
Negotiators still working to finalize their plan: Lawmakers working on the compromise package reportedly have reached agreement on how to distribute $160 billion in aid to state and local governments and continue to discuss a compromise on liability protections. “The bipartisan group has tried to come up with a middle-ground approach that, instead of blanket immunity, would provide businesses with an ‘affirmative defense’ for fighting lawsuits if they follow certain health standards, but the group has struggled to nail down the language,” Roll Call reports.
But even as negotiators work to finalize details of their plan, McConnell’s staffers reportedly told leadership offices that the majority leader did not see a path toward a deal that would be acceptable to Senate Republicans.
“McConnell has repeatedly emphasized that he believes more assistance is needed to help the economy, but he has framed the emerging bipartisan package as unworkable,” The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Jeff Stein report. “His staffers warned that Senate Republicans would reject the group’s potential agreements on a temporary liability shield for businesses, as well as on aid to state and local governments.”
McConnell on Thursday again demanded a broad liability shield, and he blamed Democrats for blocking a deal Republicans would accept. “Our Democratic colleagues have not even let us pass noncontroversial money to invest in vaccine distribution — not unless the two parties settle a whole list of issues that are controversial the way they want," he said.
What’s next: In a sign that prospects for a deal have dimmed, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) sent members home Thursday and told them they won’t need to return until at least Tuesday evening. That would leave Congress less than four days to finalize a spending deal needed to prevent a government shutdown, assuming the Senate can approve legislation already passed by the House extending the current December 11 funding deadline by a week. But lawmakers were reportedly uncertain Thursday about how the Senate would get that done.
Pelosi indicated that talks on the emergency relief legislation could drag on beyond Christmas, even as several key aid programs are set to expire by the end of the month, potentially causing millions of Americans to lose unemployment benefits and protections keeping them from being evicted.