By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said Congress should pass a U.S. coronavirus relief package without either the business liability protections that Republicans want or the aid to state and local governments that is a Democratic priority.
“What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local, and pass those things that we can agree on, knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year,” McConnell told reporters. “Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues?”
“Leaving here (for the year) without a COVID relief package cannot happen,” the Republican said.
It was not clear whether Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi would go along with the idea, and her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both parties are under mounting pressure to deliver a fresh infusion of coronavirus aid to families and businesses reeling from a pandemic that has killed over 283,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work.
A group of emergency aid programs implemented in response to the pandemic, including additional unemployment benefits and a moratorium on renter evictions, is set to expire at the end of December.
Lawmakers enacted $3 trillion in COVID-19 aid earlier this year but have not been able to agree on fresh relief since April.
For McConnell to suggest abandoning the liability provisions, even temporarily, marked a significant departure for him, as he has spent much of the year talking about how necessary such protections are for businesses, universities and other organizations. He did this again on Tuesday, indicating he had not given up on the idea.
“We can’t get the economy back to normal if we have an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic,” McConnell said. He said he favored onetime liability protections related just to the pandemic.
Aid to state and local governments is a top Democratic priority for the next round of COVID-19 relief, but is opposed by many Republicans, who say they fear it will be used by those governments to plug non-pandemic-related holes in their budgets.
Among measures McConnell said lawmakers tend to agree on were aid to small businesses, vaccine delivery and assistance to healthcare workers.
President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, said Tuesday Congress should immediately fund vaccine distribution.
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said a review of the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution plans indicated that “Without urgent action by this Congress, this month to put sufficient resources in the vaccine distribution and manufacturing … there’s a real chance, that after an early round of vaccinations, the effort will slow and stall.”Pelosi and McConnell have said they hope to attach long-awaited COVID-19 relief to a broad $1.4 trillion spending bill, known as an omnibus, that lawmakers are also trying to pass this month. Failure to pass the spending legislation could lead to a partial government shutdown.
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi said she supported including another round of $1,200 direct payments for Americans in the next package of coronavirus relief.
A proposal for $908 billion in relief – put forward by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week and endorsed by Pelosi as a basis for negotiations – does not include funding for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks like the ones included in a previous COVID-19 aid package last spring.
McConnell has been pushing a smaller, $500 billion measure and has said Trump would sign that.
Pelosi, in a quick hallway conversation with reporters before McConnell’s remarks, said she hoped $1,200 checks could be included. “I hope so. But that’s really more up to the president (Donald Trump) if he would be agreeable to do that, but we’re all for it,” she said.
Reuters – www.investing.com