Hill leaders near deal on long-awaited Covid relief plan
Posted December 15, 2020 11:21 p.m. EST
CNN — Congressional leaders in both parties expressed growing confidence Tuesday evening that Washington will be able to cut a last-ditch deal to provide relief to Americans hit hard by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic after setting aside months of partisan finger-pointing and bickering.
Democrats and Republicans sounded upbeat following the conclusion of in-person talks on Tuesday between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.
Nothing has been finalized yet and the details are scarce about what may be agreed to, but all signs are pointing to the likely announcement of a deal that will include provisions with widespread bipartisan support, including an extension of jobless benefits, loans for hard-hit small businesses and money for vaccine distribution. Lawmakers may also extend the federal eviction moratorium and defer student loan payments.
While Hill leaders would not confirm what they have agreed to, both sides are likely to have made some significant concessions including potentially dropping demands for money for states and cities -- a priority Democrats have been pushing -- and a liability shield that the GOP had been seeking.
McConnell told reporters that there has been "significant progress" and said, "I'm optimistic that we are going to be able to complete an understanding sometime soon."
McCarthy similarly projected confidence, saying, "I think it's going really well."
Schumer said "it's getting closer" when asked by CNN if he agreed with the assessment from top Republicans that a deal is close at hand.
"We are exchanging paper back and forth and hopefully we can come to a deal soon," Schumer said, adding, "I think there is a genuine desire to come to any agreement by all four parties."
The meetings between top congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, which concluded for the evening shortly after 10 p.m. ET Tuesday, represent the most significant step in weeks in efforts to broker a deal on Covid aid and government funding before lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays and key pandemic relief programs expire at the end of the year.
The talks between Hill leaders took place on Tuesday after the formal unveiling earlier this week of legislative text on a potential Covid stimulus plan put forward by a bipartisan coalition aimed at finding common ground among a deeply divided Congress.
Instead of putting out a single legislative package, the bipartisan coalition split their proposal into two bills with one dealing with the thorny issues of state and local aid and liability protections, while the other focused on provisions expected to win widespread bipartisan support.
The consensus bill put forward by the bipartisan coalition that sidesteps that issue as well as liability protections could serve as a ready-made starting point for what could be agreed to more widely on Covid relief.