Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to reach a compromise with Democrats over Covid stimulus relief met a chilly reception from some lawmakers on Tuesday, as Congress struggles to reach a deal before the year’s end.
Mr McConnell said on Tuesday that Republicans would be willing to drop their demand for liability protections to shield businesses, schools and other organisations during the pandemic — an issue he previously described as a “red line” for the legislation — if Democrats were willing to drop their demand for immediate funding for state and local governments.
The two sides could then come back to the table and hammer out a broader deal when president-elect Joe Biden’s administration takes office next year, Mr McConnell suggested.
“My view and I think it’s the view shared by literally everybody on both sides of the aisle: we can’t leave without doing a Covid bill. The country needs it,” he said. “It remains my view that we ought to pass what we can agree on.”
Shortly afterwards, Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said Mr McConnell’s proposal was not a fair compromise.
“Many Republicans support state and local funding. State and local funding is bipartisan. Unlike the extreme corporate liability proposal leader McConnell made which has no Democratic support,” the Senate minority leader said at a press conference.
“Leader McConnell has refused to be part of the bipartisan negotiations, and now he’s sabotaging good faith bipartisanship negotiations because his partisan ideological effort is not getting a good reception.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also critical, saying in a statement that Mr McConnell’s “efforts to undermine good-faith, bipartisan negotiations are appalling.”
“The bipartisan negotiations involving senators and members of the House have made good progress and must be allowed to proceed without Leader McConnell’s obstruction,” she added.
Negotiations over a new package of stimulus measures to help relieve the damage wrought by the pandemic stalled before the presidential election and did not resume in earnest until last week, when a bipartisan group of senators unveiled compromise legislation worth $908bn.
That package would include $288bn in small business aid, $180bn in unemployment benefits and $160bn in state and local government aid, among other measures. Ms Pelosi said the compromise bill should serve as a basis for negotiations.
Two senators involved with the bipartisan talks — Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire — both criticised Mr McConnell’s proposal.
“I don’t agree with that approach,” Ms Shaheen told reporters on Tuesday.
Ms Collins said her “first preference” would be to keep both liability protections and state and local government funding in the current bill as she supported both.
Separately, some senators not involved with the negations, including Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, and Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, have been pushing for the interim relief package to include additional stimulus cheques for individuals.
Mr Sanders has said he would vote against a Covid relief package that did not include the payments. President Donald Trump has publicly stated, as recently as October, that he was ready to sign a bill that included $1,200 stimulus cheques. A report from The Washington Post on Tuesday indicated that the White House was pushing Senate Republicans to include $600 stimulus cheques in the proposal.
However, no stimulus cheques are included in the current $908bn Senate proposal. Mr McConnell has previously expressed opposition to a new round of payments.