The proposal — which includes aid to small businesses and funding for unemployment benefits — represents the last chance for an agreement on government support for the world’s largest economy in the midst of the latest coronavirus surge. In order to make it more palatable to both parties on Capitol Hill, lawmakers stripped out two highly contested provisions, on liability protections for businesses and assistance for states and local governments, lowering the price tag of the package from $908bn.
Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat and minority whip in the Senate, backed the plan on Monday, suggesting that some party leaders were ready to embrace it. “This package does not include everything I think we need. But, it is an honest compromise,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“We must provide some emergency relief for the American people before we go home for the holidays,” he added, calling on Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate majority leader, to call a vote on the bill this week.
US lawmakers have been feeling mounting pressure to reach an agreement in the face of the big surge in coronavirus cases since the November election, and evidence of a sharp slowdown in the labour market. In the absence of any significant negotiations between the Trump administration and congressional leaders, a bipartisan group in the Senate has been working to forge a palatable solution.
The goal on Capitol Hill is to reach a deal that can be passed by the end of this week along with legislation to fund government operations, although the timing may still slip.
The prospects for the scaled-back agreement to be approved appear to be on the rise. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, held a call with Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, on Monday night, in which they recognised the “need to advance a final agreement . . . together and quickly this week”, according to an account of the conversation by Drew Hammill, Ms Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, Mr McConnell seemed willing to embrace the plan. “Either 100 Senators will be here shaking our heads, slinging blame and offering excuses about why we still have not been able to make a law . . . we will break for the holidays having sent another huge dose of relief out the door for the people who need it,” he said. “So let’s get this done.”
Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest American business lobby group, which has championed the measures opposed by Democrats to shield companies from lawsuits related to the pandemic, also backed the limited deal.
“Partial agreement is better than no agreement, and it is imperative that Congress advance aid for small businesses and non-profits, extension of unemployment programmes, funding for schools and day care centres, and resources to support vaccinations before the end of the year,” said Neil Bradley, the group’s chief policy officer.
Some opposition to the compromise did emerge as a warning sign that the plan could still be derailed. Some Republicans believe the cost of the bill is still too high, while Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who unsuccessfully challenged Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination from the left, said any deal had to include direct stimulus cheques to struggling Americans.
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