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McConnell, Schumer spar as pressure grows for coronavirus deal

The Hill logo The Hill 12/3/2020 Jordain Carney
Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer are posing for a picture: McConnell, Schumer spar as pressure grows for coronavirus deal © Greg Nash - Bonnie Cash McConnell, Schumer spar as pressure grows for coronavirus deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sparred over coronavirus relief on Thursday as pressure grows for leadership to cut a deal.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, said he believed a deal on coronavirus relief was "within reach," but didn't embrace a bipartisan proposal gaining steam within his own caucus.

McConnell argued Congress should pass a coronavirus relief bill that covers areas on which both sides agree, including more small business aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extending soon-to-expire programs created through the March CARES Act.

"The solution to this impasse has been in plain sight for a long time now for anyone willing to see it. Agree where we agree. Back that progress. Make law ... and then keep debating the areas where we don't agree," McConnell said.

"Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this. Let me say it again, we can do this and we need to do this. So let's be about actually making a law," McConnell added.

Pressure is growing on Capitol Hill for more coronavirus relief as cases climb across the country, states and cities reinstate lockdown measures and public health experts warn of a brutal winter.

A bipartisan, bicameral group released a framework this week for a $908 billion bill and are expected to release text by Monday. That bill included more PPP funding, a $300 per week beefed up unemployment payment and more money for state and local governments.

In a hat tip to McConnell, it also included short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits until states can come up with their own protections. But Democrats have been cool to the idea over concerns that it could be used to bludgeon worker protections.

McConnell on Thursday referenced the legal protections, saying that "liability protection should be able to pass the Senate today."

But McConnell seemed cool to the proposal on Tuesday and didn't embrace it during his floor speech on Thursday.

Instead, he referenced his own GOP-only proposal and his staff, after his speech, blasted out a release touting the bill as something President Trump will sign and questioning if Democrats will let it pass.

"Here in the Senate, I put forward a serious and highly targeted relief proposal including elements which we know the president is ready and willing to sign into law. Why should these impactful and noncontroversial life-preservers be delayed one second longer?" McConnell asked.

McConnell has touted his proposal as a measure that can become law. But it can't pass the Senate or the Democratic-controlled House.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is a member of the bipartisan group, warned that a GOP-only proposal can't become law and that the benefit of her proposal is that it has support on both sides of the aisle.

"We'll see what the leader introduces but if it's identical to what he brought forward this summer then it's going to be a partisan bill and that's not going to become law," Collins said.

McConnell's proposal doesn't include additional help for state and local governments - a top priority for Democrats but an issue that draws strong pushback from members of the GOP caucus.

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday embraced the $908 billion bipartisan proposal as a starting place for negotiations.

That means Democratic leadership has been willing to reduce its price tag from the $3.4 trillion initially passed by House Democrats then to $2.2 trillion and now to the bipartisan group figure.

"We believe with good faith negotiations we could come to an agreement," Schumer said on Thursday.

And Schumer said that while McConnell talked about compromise, he then reiterated "a long list of Republican demands and blaming the Democrats for everything."

"For some reason, in the midst of this generational crisis, Republican Leader McConnell does not seem inclined to compromise to actually get something done. But what he wants to do is posture, to put partisan bills on the floor and say, take it or leave it," Schumer said.

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