WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — With the expiration of the federal CARES Act looming, a new, smaller, bipartisan proposal to extend COVID-19 relief programs is the best chance to break the gridlock in Congress.
The $908 billion package would include funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance, food and rental assistance, state and local governments, transportation and vaccine distribution, among other things.
The plan, which is garnering growing support from both sides of the aisle, has brought Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., back to the negotiating table for the first time in weeks.
“I’m encouraged,” Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said of the momentum. “This (package) will get us to the end of January at least, especially as far as the unemployment benefits are concerned, the small businesses assistance.”
President Donald Trump, who would have to sign the bill into law, is on board, too.
“I think we’re getting very close and I want it to happen,” he told reporters Thursday.
For months, the price tag has kept the Democrat-led House and Republican-controlled Senate from passing another relief package. Now, the clock is ticking as eviction protections and extended unemployment benefits will expire at the end of the month.
“We can do this. … Compromise is within reach,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, though he also suggested his smaller $500 billion plan is the better option. “The way to help the country is to let the former group be signed into law while we argue over the rest.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also prefers the smaller options, but he hasn’t drawn a line in the sand.
“I believe that $900 billion is still more than we need to do to help the people that need the help, but I wouldn’t say no to that right now,” Grassley said.
One of the biggest sticking points for Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is that the plan does not include another round of direct stimulus payments for individuals.
“I think it (a stimulus payment) is absolutely vital,” Hawley said. “We did that earlier this year. I think it was one of the most effective pieces of the relief package.”
Lawmakers have only six working days left to strike a deal before their Christmas break.