Lawmakers Rally for $908 Billion Breakthrough on Long-Awaited Stimulus

Lawmakers from the House and Senate gather Tuesday, Dec. 1, to unveil their proposal for a $908 billion package containing pandemic relief funds. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Before lawmakers depart Capitol Hill for a holiday season where huge swaths of the country are seeing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, a bipartisan coalition on Tuesday unveiled a $908 billion relief package.

The figure is half the amount floated by the Trump administration in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election. About $560 billion is money repurposed from the $2 trillion CARES Act — the first Covid-19 relief bill passed in March. The measure gives $160 billion to state and local governments, with time-limit requirements for them to put virus protections in place. If essential workers fall ill on the job during that time, the bill says governments will not be liable.

Touting their efforts at a press conference this morning, members of the House and Senate from both parties called it inexcusable that Congress has failed for so many months to iron out additional relief funds.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he had heard from a number of his constituents in West Virginia about the necessity of additional relief legislation. Relief funding, which includes $300 a month unemployment benefits for 18 weeks, would last until April 1 if legislators follow the group’s proposal.

“It’s not the time for political brinkmanship, you’ll not see any of that here today on this stage,” Manchin said.

The proposal would steer $4 billion would toward continuing student loan forbearance, and $228 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program. Testing, tracing and vaccine development efforts would get $16 billion.

Child care costs, funding for the U.S. Postal Service and opioid treatment funding all will receive allowances under the framework, totaling $25 billion. Another $10 billion would be allocated to build out broadband internet connections, to facilitate virtual communication and learning across the nation. 

Though he noted that neither Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have given any assurances, Manchin warned that an overwhelming group of bipartisan lawmakers would join the American people in demanding they bring the drafted bill to a vote.

“We’re determined not to go home until we do something, so it’s up to them to work with us, we want to work with them,” Manchin said. “If they have other priorities, please let us know, but right now we think we’ve covered an awful lot of the areas of concern.”

Senator Mark Warner said it would be “stupidity on steroids” if Congress did not lay out and pass an interim package before the legislative break two weeks away. Warner noted that the plan would also direct funding to support Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority deficits. The Washington Post editorial board reported just a day earlier that the WMATA’s looming fiscal disaster would lead to 400,000 layoffs and an end to weekend service.

Mnuchin and Pelosi are expected to speak on the phone at 1 p.m. to discuss additional Covid-19 relief funding and an omnibus bill to fund the government through next year. Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell appeared before the Senate Tuesday to testify on the government’s Covid-19 relief response.

Providing Americans with relief and putting politics aside was at the forefront of Tuesday’s conference, with many lawmakers celebrating the cooperation across the aisle to form a consensus. Senator Maggie Hassan recalled volunteering at a food bank during the legislative break, working together as neighbors, not Democrats or Republicans.

“One of the things that stuck with me was, one of the organizers of the food drive said to me, ‘Senator, please don’t judge the people who come here by the cars they’re driving,’ … ‘Because this pandemic has hit everybody in unexpected ways,’” Hassan said. “I think that’s what we need to remember right now as we come together to do the will of the American people.”

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