Congress must pass a COVID-19 relief package soon, top senators said during a rare Saturday session of the body.
“We are running out of time,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned.
Congressional leaders have said a fresh relief package is close but have so far been unable to reach a final agreement.
Schumer said the number one thing holding up the approximately $1 billion package is an insistence from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on a provision that would prohibit the Treasury Department and the FED from setting up new emergency lending facilities.
Democrats don’t want to include the provision, arguing it would prevent the agencies from doing what they need to in the coming months.
“We are close to an agreement but we need to finalize it and only, really, the Toomey provision stands in the way,” Schumer added.
Making no mention of the provision, McConnell told colleagues just before Schumer spoke that Americans struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic need Congress to pass another relief package.
“Every one of us in the Senate and the House represent American families who simply cannot wait any longer for Congress to conclude these discussions. Every day that we delay may very well cause more small businesses their survival, cost more American workers their jobs, and, yes, cost more Americans their very lives,” the senator said on the Senate floor in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 8, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)
McConnell described discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and President Donald Trump’s top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as “productive.”
“I appreciate the good-faith spirit that has characterized” the discussions, he continued, “but the American people cannot feed their families or pay their bills with congress’s good-faith discussions.
“They need us to act. We need to conclude our talks, draft legislation, and land this plane,” he concluded.
The latest framework borrows from a bipartisan proposal that came from a group including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
It includes provisions including funding for schools to reopen, direct unemployment aid, and money for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, lawmakers said.
Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday tried to pass a bill that would give most Americans another $1,200 check but were blocked by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Hawley later said he was assured by Republican leadership that checks are part of the package that’s being finalized. White House adviser Larry Kudlow said as much as Thursday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Saturday that additional relief could have been passed months ago but it was blocked by Democrats “who weren’t even interested to the runup to the election.”
“Negotiators are working around the clock to reach an agreement that will gain the support of both parties and reach the president’s desk before we gavel out for the holidays. But the days are dragging on and the clock is ticking and the time is running out,” he said.
Senate Democrats in October blocked a GOP-crafted $300 billion package, alleging it was too narrow, while Republicans in the Senate refused to bring the House-passed, approximately $3 trillion package known as the HEROES Act, arguing it was unwieldy.