Bicameral Coalition Endorses $908 Billion Bipartisan Proposal for COVID Relief
WASHINGTON – Republican and Democratic senators were joined by members of the House Problem Solvers conference Tuesday to endorse a $908 billion COVID economic relief bill they say should carry the nation into the early spring.
The proposal, described by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as a “template or a framework” for a final COVID emergency relief package, includes $228 billion to extend the Paycheck Protection Program into next year, and contains a provision to ensure that restaurants and other hospitality industry businesses qualify for assistance.
The proposal, which will run through April, also includes $160 million for states and local municipalities, and $180 billion for unemployment insurance.
The unemployment benefits would break down to $300 a week for 18 weeks, retroactive to Dec. 1.
That’s half of the $600 per week included under the CARES Act from late March.
It also includes billions in assistance for transportation-related industries like airlines, $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution and additional money for schools and child care services.
Manchin told reporters assembled in the Dirksen Senate Office Building Tuesday morning that Senate and House members gathered with him behind the podium had been “working diligently for the last 30 days or more trying to get to a conclusion.”
“Every Senator and every Congressperson here has put in an enormous amount of time on this in person and on the phone,” he said, adding that their staff had also put in “an intense amount of work,” many foregoing their traditional Thanksgivings to get the proposal done.
“We did this in the best interest of … our great country, and so that we can all go home knowing that we have worked diligently to make sure that the unemployed, the small businesses, the state and local funding, student loan forbearance … everything that is scheduled to come to a halt in December, continues,” Manchin said.
The senator said that at a time when the nation is battling COVID-19 “more fiercely now than ever,” it would be “inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement” on a relief package.
“It’s not the time for political brinkmanship,” he said. “Our action to provide emergency relief is needed now more than ever before.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., acknowledged the proposal is not going to please everybody, but said “it would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim relief package.
Warner noted a recently published Washington Post report stating that without some kind of aid from Congress, the D.C. Metro will soon be forced to lay off 4,000 workers, and curtail daily service while ending weekend service entirely.
“This will have a dramatic effect on the functions of the federal government as well as constituents across the tri-state area,” he said.
He also acknowledged the work of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, describing her as “the leader on garnering support for small businesses.”
“We have literally hundreds of thousands of small businesses across Virginia that are struggling, disproportionally, the majority of those businesses have been minority businesses,” he said. “In this package we have allocated $11 billion for investments in CDFIs, MDIs, and other institutions that will lend to these underserved communities.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said the unveiling of the proposal “is a win for the American people” and “for common sense.”
Gottheimer said his caucus’s endorsement means the proposal already had the support of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the House, “who combined represent millions of families and businesses who need immediate action.”
“They want to get help, and they are sick and tired, like we all are, of waiting for COVID relief,” he said.
“We can’t allow some to prioritize politics ahead of the pandemic,” he continued. “This four-month COVID-19 emergency relief package will help get us through the hardest months of Winter and into the new administration.”
“This bicameral package is consistent with the values and priorities of the problem solvers … and it will help families across the country with supplement unemployment, child care, rental assistance, and resources for all those families who may be visiting food pantries for the first time,” he said.
“It includes significant investment for our state and local governments of all sizes, to deal with revenue loss, COVID-19 expenditures, food insecurity, mass transit and K-12 education,” Gottheimer said, adding, “we’re getting federal investment to our hospitals and health systems and frontline workers so we can continue working to keep our communities safe.”
Among those throwing their support behind the bill Tuesday were Problem Solvers Caucus leadership members Tom Reed, R-N.Y., Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, Dean Phillips, D-Minn., Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Fred Upton, R-Mich.
In addition to Sens. Manchin, Collins and Warner, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Angus King, I-Maine, and Bill Cassidy, R-La., also spoke in favor of the framework.
Manchin said neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered assurances that the bipartisan proposal will be brought to the floors of their respective chambers for a vote.
“But I think the American people will put the pressure on, showing this needs to be done,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to talk about coronavirus relief on Tuesday for the first time since October.