CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bipartisan, bicameral group of federal legislators on Tuesday announced a coronavirus relief framework as congressional leaders begin movement on passing a measure before the year ends.
The $908 billion proposal is the byproduct of a month of discussions between lawmakers, and would provide funding through next March.
“We’re battling COVID-19 more fiercely now than we ever have before. We recognize that,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters, “It’s inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement.”
Manchin is one of nine senators to back the proposal. The House of Representatives Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of 50 representatives from both parties, has endorsed the plan.
The framework sets aside $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $180 billion for unemployment insurance; $288 billion for supporting small businesses; and $45 billion for coronavirus vaccine development and distribution, as well as testing and tracing.
The compromise’s cost is between the $500 billion proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Democrats’ $2.2 trillion pitch. According to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, $560 billion of the bipartisan proposal comes from unutilized CARES Act money. Congress passed the relief measure in March.
“Now, I happen to be a deficit hawk,” Romney said. “I don’t like borrowing money. I don’t like spending money we don’t have. But the time to borrow money — maybe the only time to borrow money — is when there’s a crisis, and this is a crisis. We want to help people at this particular time.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., noted the measure is not aimed at pleasing everyone but helping people, organizations and governments struggling financially because of the pandemic.
“I came to this with the notion that I’m hearing from Virginians … that it would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim package as a bridge,” he said. “I think we laid out that interim package.”
Relief programs will expire at the end of the year if Congress does not act, including expanded unemployment benefits, tax credits for businesses and a ban on certain evictions.
“We have to do something before the next few weeks,” Manchin said. “We have to.”
Manchin added he is confident congressional leaders will pass a relief package before lawmakers leave Washington, D.C. for the holidays.
“This is the only group that’s made an effort that they’ve made right now. This is the only group that has come together in such a large gathering with many more people involved,” he said.
“We know that the need’s there. We’re determined not to go home until we do something, so it’s up to them to work with us. We want to work with them. If they have other priorities, please let us know, but right now, we think we’ve covered an awful lot of the areas of concern.”
Romney said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has offered advice about spending. Manchin and Romney noted McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were aware of the discussions.
“He’s encouraged for us to continue to work in a bipartisan way, a bicameral way, to come to an agreement,” Manchin added about Schumer.
McConnell on Tuesday rejected the bipartisan framework, saying any proposal needs President Donald Trump’s support. He stressed legislators need to pass a measure this month.
“This government is in place for sure for the next month. I think the place to start is are we actually making a law, or are we just making a point,” he said. “I think the way you make a law for sure is you know you’ve got a presidential signature.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, on Tuesday spoke with Mnuchin about a coronavirus proposal. Pelosi noted in a statement Mnuchin is willing to review the bipartisan plan as well as a plan from her and Schumer. The Democratic leaders have already sent the pitch to McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Lawmakers also need to approve a spending package to avoid a government shutdown as the current funding measure will expire on Dec. 11.