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In the most optimistic sign yet that more coronavirus stimulus will be forthcoming, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated Congress won't break for the holidays until a new pandemic relief bill passes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also promised lawmakers will work through Christmas if necessary to get a deal done.
Pelosi and McConnell are the two key figures that will determine the fate of any coronavirus aid proposals. Pelosi will decide if a vote on a bill occurs in the House, while McConnell will determine if the Senate votes on one. With both party leaders promising help and pledging not to adjourn either branch of Congress without a deal, there's real reason to believe something could pass before the holidays.
This is optimistic news for millions of Americans hoping for help from Washington as they face the looming threat of unemployment benefits running out. However, the most recent proposed relief plans do not include another stimulus check. That means even if lawmakers do take action before going home for the year, most people can't count on the coronavirus relief bill putting more money into their bank accounts.
Still, any bill will likely include help for the jobless, money for vaccine distribution, and financial aid for schools, -- so it's great news that congressional leaders are making a renewed commitment to getting something done.
More coronavirus relief is within reach
Negotiations over pandemic relief have been stalled for months, with lawmakers unable to reach consensus because of divisions over key issues. This time, however, there are some looming deadlines that may finally force Congress into action.
First, there's the looming threat of a government shutdown unless lawmakers authorize continued funding. A temporary stop gap measure kept the government operating at current levels through the end of this week. While another temporary funding bill could theoretically pass, there's a serious effort by party leaders to include COVID-19 aid in the next bill to keep the government open.
Second, Congress would normally be set to adjourn soon for the holidays, but McConnell has promised that won't happen until a deal is reached. At a weekly Republican press conference held on Tuesday, Dec. 16, McConnell vowed "We're not leaving here without a COVID package," and pledged to the public that "No matter how long it takes, we'll be here."
Nancy Pelosi has also affirmed that lawmakers will act before going home, saying "Now, if we need more time, then we take more time. But we have to have a bill and we cannot go home without it." That means there's universal agreement that no holiday break will happen without a deal.
The framework for one is also on the table, which appears to have some support from both sides. It's based on a comprehensive plan to provide $908 billion in aid that was created by a group of centrist lawmakers, but which has since been broken into two parts.
The first is a $748 billion plan that only addresses issues where there is bipartisan consensus, including providing help to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and extending emergency unemployment benefits. Some version of this bill is most likely to be what makes it to the president's desk.
This leaves two contentious issues for a second bill. One is a liability shield for businesses that Republicans have been pushing for but Democrats object to. The other is funding for state and local governments that Democrats believe is necessary but that many Republicans oppose because they consider it a "blue state bailout."
McConnell has indicated he's willing to embrace this two-part approach and put the issue of liability protections on hold. And while Democrats have long said they won't pass a bill without aid to states, they may be willing to accept this bargain as well -- especially as President-elect Joe Biden has stressed the need to pass some type of stimulus now even if it's not perfect.
Talks will remain under way this week, so there are no guarantees yet. But those hoping for help may very well end up getting a holiday miracle after all: consensus and action from a divided Congress.