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Bipartisan group in Congress pushes $908 billion Covid-19 relief bill

With negotiations deadlocked, the new proposal faces a steep uphill climb in Congress without support from leadership.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers outlined a temporary $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal on Tuesday, far less than Democrats had hoped for, aimed at breaking a stalemate that has persisted for months.

The proposal, which includes more unemployment benefits, must still get the approval of Republican and Democratic leadership and is designed to include elements that will satisfy both parties. It doesn’t include some popular provisions, like another round of direct payments to families, and lasts through March 31.

The plan was described as a "bridge" and faces a steep uphill climb as party leaders remain far apart on the price tag and details. In recent months, House Democrats have passed a $2.2 trillion relief package while Senate Republican leaders have pursued a $500 billion package that has faltered amid a lack of bipartisan support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he's working with the White House to see what the president will sign on Covid-19 relief. He also said he plans to attach any agreement to a government funding bill ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a shutdown.

"Given the challenges of moving things across the Senate floor speedily, that would be a vehicle to add on whatever coronavirus relief bill we know will get a presidential signature," he told reporters. "Obviously, as was discussed earlier, you have to have Democratic votes to get through the House. I think it will all likely come in one package."

Sen. Mitt Romney speaks alongside a bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress as they announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2020.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she spoke to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Tuesday about government funding and Covid-19 aid, and added that additional virus relief should be passed before the end of the year.

Rolling out his economic team, President-elect Joe Biden urged legislators to provide aid to state and local governments to preserve "vital public services" such as police, firefighters and teachers.

"The full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs. But any package passed in the lame duck session is likely to be, at best, just a start," he said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the bipartisan group has "communicated with Secretary Mnuchin about our negotiations," but added he doesn't know whether he will support the deal.

“I don’t have any prediction how the White House would react," Romney said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the plan. "Covid has created a crisis. And in the crisis the people expect Congress to act."

The proposal includes $160 billion in aid to state and local governments, a priority for Democrats that Republicans have resisted. It includes liability protections for businesses and organizations from coronavirus-related lawsuits on a "short-term" basis — a top priority of McConnell that many Democrats oppose.

Another member of the group, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the lawmakers "have not had assurances" from McConnell or Pelosi that they'll allow a vote on the package, but he said "the American people will put the pressure" on them.

The framework provides $288 billion in support for small businesses like restaurants, and $180 billion to renew unemployment insurance, according to a summary obtained by NBC News.

The package excludes another round of the $1,200 direct payments that were sent out under the CARES Act in March.

The plan would provide an extra $300 in unemployment insurance for 18 weeks, including for gig workers and people covered under the CARES Act, Manchin said, adding that it would be retroactive to Tuesday, Dec. 1.

"It would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim package," Warner said.

The working group pushing the new deal includes several Republicans: Rep. Tom Reed of New York and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; as well as Democrats: Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia; and one independent, Sen. Angus King of Maine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faulted McConnell for the logjam on Covid-19 relief, saying that he "continues to negotiate in a partisan way."

Schumer told reporters he encourages the bipartisan talks on the $908 billion proposal.

"This is a good effort," he said. "I hope Leader McConnell will heed that call."

Lauren Egan and Julie Tsirkin contributed.