The months-long stalemate over another coronavirus relief package may finally be coming to an end.
Congressional leaders met for an hour Tuesday afternoon and said they will be meeting again tonight to continue their talks on Covid-19 relief and an omnibus year-end spending bill.
“We’re still talking to each other and I think there’s an agreement that we’re not going to leave here without the [spending bill] and the Covid package,” McConnell said after the meeting, according to The Washington Post. “We’ll get an agreement as soon as we can agree.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had invited McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to meet today as they try to finalize a compromise on the virus aid plan and a spending bill needed before funding for the federal government runs out after Friday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly joined by phone after speaking with Pelosi for more than an hour earlier in the day.
The signs of progress come after a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) released a $908 billion proposal split into two bills — one a $748 billion package covering unemployment benefits, small business aid and a host of other provisions with broad bipartisan support and the other including $160 billion in state and local aid with legal liability protections for businesses. The second bill pairs the provisions that have proven to be most contentious throughout months of talks.
McConnell on Tuesday again called on lawmakers to move forward on the areas where they agree and set aside the aid for state and local governments and the liability shield. “We all know the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package,” McConnell said. “It’s not like we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and state and local government in the very near future.”
The bottom line: This is the first time in months that congressional leaders have met in person to try to work out a deal, but there’s still plenty of wrangling to be done. The Post reports, for example, that “people close to negotiations believe state and local aid appears likely to fall by the wayside as lawmakers move closer to a final agreement.” And it’s not clear yet whether another round of stimulus checks might still be added to the package, as some lawmakers have proposed. The next 24 hours will determine a lot.