WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will not leave Washington for the holidays until a coronavirus aid package is passed, saying he supports waiting until next year to tackle the most divisive issues to reach a deal.
Lawmakers are trying to hammer out an agreement by Friday, when Congress hits the deadline to pass legislation to keep the government funded. Leaders from both parties hope to attach the Covid-19 aid package to the government funding bill.
"We're not leaving, I assure you. We're not leaving until we finish this package," McConnell, R-Ky., promised.
McConnell said he supported dropping the "two most contentious items for the moment" — liability protections for business that remain open during the pandemic and funding for state and local governments — which have stalled negotiations and prevented Congress from passing any meaningful Covid-19 legislation since March.
"We all know that the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package. It's not like we won't have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and of state and local government in the very near future," McConnell said.
Following an hourslong meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday night, McConnell said, "we're making significant progress and I'm optimistic that we're gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon."
There appears to be some support among both parties for siphoning off those sticking points to pass whatever relief they can agree on before the holidays.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers released two bills Monday: one with liability protections and state and local funding and one without.
Even some Democrats who have previously expressed little interest in backing down from their push for state and local aid have signaled a willingness to compromise.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Sunday on CNN's "Inside Politics" that state and local aid was "critically important," but he added that Congress must "get the essential done" to help struggling Americans.
McConnell mentioned Hoyer's comments Tuesday, saying, "It's pretty obvious the way to get a deal for weeks has been exactly what I said, what Steny Hoyer has suggested and what the bipartisan group has suggested."
McConnell is expected to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., later Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are also expected to attend.
Pelosi's office said she spoke with Mnuchin for an hour Tuesday about Covid-19 relief, as well as the government funding bill.
Still, even as there seems to be some momentum on Capitol Hill, the clock is ticking. Millions of workers will lose their jobless benefits on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, if the benefits are not renewed.