WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, will support using the pared-back $908 billion Covid-19 aid package crafted by a group of bipartisan lawmakers as the basis for a final deal.
Their support renews hope that Congress could approve aid before the end of the year. The proposal would provide an extra $300 a week in unemployment payments and extend help to cash-strapped local governments, as well as provide support for small businesses, transit systems and airlines.
The Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to consider the proposal, a concession by Pelosi and Schumer, who had been pushing for a package more than twice as large.
In a joint statement, Pelosi of California, the House speaker, and Schumer of New York, the Senate minority leader, said: "While we made a new offer to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy on Monday, in the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement."
(Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the House minority leader.)
The Democrats' support puts pressure on McConnell to return to the negotiating table in earnest, as lawmakers from both parties are eager to pass some sort of relief before they head home from Washington for the holidays — leaving just days for the lame-duck Congress to come to an agreement.
So far, McConnell has indicated that he prefers to keep coronavirus spending closer to the GOP's earlier proposal of $550 billion, and he has said he plans to attach any Covid-19 agreement to a government funding bill before 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," McConnell 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."
The bipartisan plan introduced Tuesday was supported by a number of moderate senators, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Bill Cassidy, R-La.
The proposal includes liability protections for businesses that remain open during the pandemic, a provision that has been a nonstarter for Pelosi and Schumer in the past.
The package excludes another round of the $1,200 direct payments that were sent out under the CARES Act, which was passed in March.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told reporters Wednesday that he thought the bipartisan plan could gain support from Senate Republicans, but he said: "We're also looking at Senator McConnell's [plan]. So we're kind for working through to see where the support is. And then you've got to remember we have to be talking to the administration to make sure it's something that they'll support, as well as the House."
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said the statement from Pelosi and Schumer represented "progress," but he also indicated that the party was not ready to abandon McConnell's proposal.
"At some point, hopefully, we'll be able to find the common ground and maybe we can merge" the plans, he said.
While White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that stimulus relief was a "policy priority" for the administration, it is unclear what President Donald Trump will be willing to support in the final few weeks of his term. McConnell said Tuesday that he was working with the White House to see what Trump will sign.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.Y., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y., who helped craft the plan, thanked Pelosi and Schumer, calling their support "a much-needed step in the right direction."
"We thank Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer for recognizing the critical need for a bipartisan, bicameral emergency COVID-19 relief package," they said.
CORRECTION (Dec. 2, 2020, 8:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the state Tom Reed represents in Congress. He is a House member from New York, not New Jersey.