Bipartisan COVID Relief Plan Expected to Put State Aid, Liability Shield in Separate Bill

By | December 13, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed developments on federal funding, including pandemic relief, during a roughly half-hour phone call on Sunday and agreed to speak again on Monday, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter.

In the latest bid to break months of deadlock over a stimulus or relief bill, the lawmakers will present language for two separate bills, a person familiar with the talks said. One proposal for $748 billion in spending will include all provisions other than state and local aid and liability protections for employers. The second bill will have two provisions that have deeply divided leaders on both parties — $160 billion in state and local aid allocated through a needs-based system, and liability provisions.

Splitting the plan into two parts reflects the depth of partisan divisions even as the negotiators from both parties attempt to build consensus on a broad plan that could be used in leadership negotiations for a final bill. It’s unlikely all members who negotiated the plan will sign onto both of the measures, the person said.

‘Alive and Well’

Senator Joe Manchin, one of the negotiators, said earlier Sunday they’d produce a relief package “for the American people tomorrow, $908 billion.”

“The plan is alive and well and there’s no way, no way that we are going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people,” the West Virginia Democrat said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Senator Joe Manchin
Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Democratic and Republican lawmakers engaged in the talks have said they completed detailed proposals on small business help, vaccine-distribution funding and other key areas. The sticking point is how to shield employers from virus-related lawsuits, a top demand of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A competing, $916 billion relief proposal from Mnuchin — similar in size but different in detail — is also circulating.

Manchin, one of eight negotiators from both parties involved in the drafting, expressed confidence that Congress will pass a relief bill before the holiday break.

Whether that optimism is enough to pass a bill in both houses is an open question.

“There’s 535 people that have to vote, 535. I can’t guarantee they’re all going to vote for it and pass it,” Manchin said.

He didn’t spell out how the liability question would be addressed in the group’s proposal, while suggesting it might include both liability and aid to states, a Democratic priority.

“We can get something we could all live with, but we are putting a product forward,” he said. “It’s going to go forward with both — with everything hopefully in it. You will see a complete bill tomorrow before the end of the day.”

Needs Based

President Donald Trump hasn’t been closely involved in the current round of talks, but said on Fox News that he’s “pushing it very hard.”

“I want to see checks going for more money than they’re talking about going to people,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends” in an interview taped on Saturday. Manchin said mailing stimulus checks to Americans regardless of need in the latest round of relief was “a bad idea.”

Instead, negotiators are going for an extension of $300 a week in expanded jobless benefits for 16 weeks as “more reasonable, practical, and much-needed,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged both sides of the divided Congress to be prepared to compromise to provide aid to millions of people soon to lose unemployment benefits.

“In the legislative process, nobody ever gets everything they want,” Hoyer said Sunday on CNN’s “Inside Politics.”

–With assistance from Erik Wasson.

Top Photo: The American flag flies at half mast at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Bipartisan negotiators on a $908 billion pandemic relief package are planning to unveil more details of their proposal on Monday, aiming to settle on language that can satisfy enough Republicans and Democrats to secure passage of one final tranche of Covid-19 aid before Congress breaks for the year. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

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