WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A bipartisan COVID-19 relief package is continuing to gain momentum on Capitol Hill, with both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden signaling their support and party leaders back at the negotiating table.
But the devil is in the details, and there are a couple of issues that might stand in the way of getting the bill passed before Congress goes home for the holidays and the CARES Act runs out at the end of the month.
“I think we’ve got a sweet spot in history here,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said of the $908 billion package put forth earlier this week by a bipartisan group of representatives and senators. “It really only takes us through next March — but it does take us through next March.”
The bill, which extends unemployment benefits and small business funding, among other things, is a far cry from Democrats’ original $3 trillion proposal and even the $2.2 trillion package already passed by the House but ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate.
“Does it have all the priorities I’d like to see? No,” Durbin said.
But that, he said, is exactly why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who decides whether a bill makes it to the Senate floor, must also compromise.
“It’s really his decision,” he said. “He’s the one solitary voice to make that difference.”
McConnell signaled he’s ready to deal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday that negotiations are making progress. But the two remain divided about how much money local governments need and legal protections for businesses.
“McConnell won’t even bring it up without that being in there,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said.
He said the measure is not unreasonable considering businesses are already struggling.
“There needs to be protection against lawsuits ’cause you can’t tell where this virus is picked up at,” he said.
While Durbin says Republicans are blowing the matter out of proportion, he noted the deal includes a compromise on it, too.
“We are proposing a time-out in the filing of new cases,” he said.
For now, the plan does not include another round of stimulus checks for individuals, but Durbin noted that “could change if President Trump says that he wants to send those checks.”