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Despite The Bipartisan Stimulus, The More Relief Before Christmas Appears Thin.

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Rank-and-file members of Congress are attempting to ramp up the pressure on leadership to cease their partisan jabs and return to the negotiating table to pass a coronavirus stimulus before lawmakers soon leave town for Christmas recess.

A coalition of Republican and Democratic senators, as well as the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, unveiled their own $908 billion proposal Tuesday. The group presented it as a middle-of-the-road compromise vital to curbing the economic pain felt by tens of millions of Americans as they head into the holiday season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there is still no current path forward for how any relief legislation becomes law before Congress leaves for the year.

Leadership from both sides of the aisle have yet to buy in to the bipartisan proposal as they work to avoid a looming Dec. 11 government funding deadline. And while Democratic and Republican lawmakers indicated to Newsweek that they could stomach the compromise, the far greater hurdles are still House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Senator Susan Collins (C), Republican of Maine, speaks alongside a bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress as they announce a proposal for a Covid relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 1.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

“It seems like to me it’s pretty late to decide you’d rather have something than nothing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a leadership member. “The whole idea of not being willing to negotiate until you’re down to the last week of negotiating time usually doesn’t produce a very good result.”

Only about a third of the $908 billion proposal—$348 billion—is new funding, while the rest is repurposed money from the CARES Act. That was welcoming news to Republicans who worried about more deficit spending, but not so much for Democrats. A second round of individual checks are also not included, another win for Republicans but a detriment to those struggling who were holding out hope for such cash assistance.

“I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s certainly not enough,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mon.) said.

Tester cited a lack of state and local aid, which would top out at $160 billion. The topic has been a major sticking point for Democrats and Republicans, the former of which prefers nearly four times the amount for state and local governments facing budget shortfalls while the latter favors none.

The bipartisan proposal also includes $180 billion in unemployment insurance, $288 billion for the small-business Paycheck Protection Program, $25 billion for renters, $4 billion for student loan deferments, $82 billion for schools and $16 billion for vaccine development, testing and tracing, among other things.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone on Tuesday for the first time since COVID relief talks broke down before the election. But while Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol that he expected economic aid to come up, “the primary purpose is on government funding.”

In a statement after their call, Pelosi gave no mention of the new bipartisan stimulus proposal. She only referred to the private offer made to McConnell, which was also provided to Mnuchin.

Those pushing for the bipartisan deal remain hopeful that their impending vacation, the surge of new COVID-19 cases and the American people will put the heat on leadership.

“I think that pressure is going to really get this to the floor for a vote,” said an optimistic Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

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