Congressional leaders meet to discuss Covid-19, year-end spending bill

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WASHINGTON – The four top Congressional leaders discussed a coronavirus relief package and a sweeping spending bill on Tuesday and planned to return for another meeting in the evening, as lawmakers rushed to reach an agreement before critical support programs expire at year-end.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY) and Senate Majority Leader (D., NY) House Minority Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) first gave in the afternoon, with the leaders meeting of the two sides, a signal that they could be ready to make the tough decisions necessary to conclude a agreement.

The group will meet again on Tuesday evening.
“We continue to work. I think there is progress. We’re going to get back together, ”McCarthy said after the afternoon meeting.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who spoke to Ms Pelosi for over an hour on Tuesday, also joined the first meeting by phone.

The talks came a day after a bipartisan group of lawmakers largely finished their work on a relief compromise proposal against the coronavirus. This agreement included, among other things, an extension of unemployment insurance and funding for schools, the distribution of vaccines and small businesses.

But the bipartisan coalition failed in its efforts to reach general agreement on the thorniest issue: the protection of the liability of companies and other entities operating during the pandemic. Instead, lawmakers released a $ 748 billion bill bundling several of the less controversial proposals, but excluding the liability protections backed by Republicans and $ 160 billion in state and local aid sought by Democrats. .

GOP leaders said last week that Congress should end the deadlock by setting aside state and local liability and aid provisions and taking other relief measures.

Ahead of the meeting with other senior leaders, Mr McConnell reiterated his call to omit the two questions from the bill, pointing to another relief bill under the Biden administration as another opportunity to address them. He said the Senate will not leave Washington until the two sides come to an agreement.

“We all know the new administration is going to ask for another package. It’s not as if we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of accountability reform and state and local government in the very near future, ”said Mr. McConnell.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the GOP Senate leadership, said the decision to separate the most controversial issues indicated a realization that only bill with broad consensus had a path to law.

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“This is just my impression of how the negotiating group separated these two issues – it appears to be taking Senator McConnell’s advice and leaving it out and doing what we can,” Cornyn told reporters on Tuesday. .

Mr Schumer declined on Tuesday to say whether he was willing to pass a bill without public and local help. He previously said such help was needed.

“Nationally and locally, everyone knows my position, it enjoys broad bipartisan support, and I’m not going to get into negotiations under any circumstances. This will happen at 4 pm, ”Mr. Schumer said.

Mr Schumer also said he wanted to provide more money for vaccine distribution, beyond the $ 6 billion offered by the bipartisan group, and that he was in favor of sending another check. direct $ 1,200 to many Americans.

Regarding the meeting, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said President Trump, who has called for a new round of checks for most Americans, will wait and see what a possible deal looks like.

“He said he would really like to see those stimulus checks out there, but his priority at the end of the day is to give relief to the American people,” she said. “We hope there will be some kind of agreement.”

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Democratic Senate leadership who has been involved in the bipartisan talks, has said he supports the prosecution of the $ 748 billion bill.

“As the struggle continues over these issues, we must provide emergency assistance to the American people before we return home for the holidays. I support the bipartisan $ 748 billion package, ”he said in a statement Monday evening.

Congressional leaders have said they hope to attach a coronavirus relief package to a full-year spending bill being prepared. Current government funding expires at 12:01 am ET on Saturday.

Write to Kristina Peterson à [email protected] and Andrew Duehren at [email protected]

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