Republican and Democratic negotiators in the US Congress are still trying to finalise a hefty deal on a coronavirus relief package to shore up Americans hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Also involved in the talks are representatives of the Trump administration.
The $900 billion bailout agreement stipulates providing one-time stimulus payments of about $600 to individuals, as well as subsidies to small businesses, $300-per-week benefits for unemployed, and vaccine distribution funding.
With details of the accord still being worked out, senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer insisted that “the finish line [of the negotiations] is in sight”.
“Everyone wants to get this done. Let’s push through the few final metres and deliver the outcome that the American people very much need”, he told the Senate on Thursday.
He was echoed by former Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who said that it is little secret that “right now, at this moment in America, we face the worst set of crises that this country has seen for perhaps 100 years”.
“Everything that is in that package is vitally needed. The problem is that it is a much smaller package than the country needs in this moment of economic desperation”, Sanders said in an interview with MSNBC.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, remained upbeat about the negotiations, saying that the sides had made “major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package”.
“We need vaccine distribution money, we need to re-up the Paycheck Protection Programme to save jobs, we need to continue to provide for laid-off Americans”, McConnell emphasised, referring to a deal facing an 18 December deadline to be okayed by all negotiating parties.
The same tone was struck by Republican Senator John Cornyn, who pointed out that Americans “have repeatedly called on Congress to provide support for those hit hardest by this pandemic” and that the negotiators “simply cannot and will not let them down”.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, however, was not very optimistic, as he warned that “people are going to lose their lifelines” and that as far as the deal is concerned, “there’s so much more that has to be done and there’s so much more need out there”.
Republicans, Democrats at Odds Over Stimulus Package
The bill is based on a bipartisan stimulus package proposal worth $908 billion that was earlier initiated by Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, and Mitt Romney, as well as their Democratic counterparts Joe Manchin, Mark Warner, Richard Durbin, and Jeanne Shaheen.
The sides have repeatedly been at loggerheads over the proposal. In early December, GOP Senator John Thune suggested that funding for coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, additional assistance for unemployment insurance and schools, as well as money to replenish the Paycheck Protection Programme of forgivable loans are all matters of bipartisan consensus.
"Those are all things that the Democrats say that they agree upon, but they have insisted - at least up until now - on a 'bloated' messaging bill on the order of $2.5 trillion... which is something that obviously wouldn’t pass the Senate and get signed into law by the president”, he said.
The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in the country remains tense, with more than 17 million confirmed cases and over 307,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University’s latest estimates.