by Dana George | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Nov. 5, 2020
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If the majority leader is serious about restarting stimulus talks, there may be a new stimulus package by next month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have shifted his stance on coronavirus relief. On Wednesday, one day after being reelected in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell indicated that Congress ought to approve a new relief package before the end of the year. Even as the presidential race and control of the Senate remained up in the air, McConnell appeared optimistic a deal could be reached.
McConnell blamed "partisan passions" for preventing a pre-election relief package, and expressed hope that a bill could be passed after the Senate goes back into session on Nov. 9. McConnell said, "I think we need to do it, and I think we need to do it before the end of the year."
Stimulus relief negotiations have continued for months without reaching an agreement. Sticking points include the size of the package, assistance for state and local government, the extent of unemployment benefits, and resources for coronavirus testing. However, today, McConnell appears ready to reopen talks.
More than 230,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus and millions are still unemployed. The situation is critical and likely to worsen. As people move indoors to ride out the winter, medical experts fear the number of COVID-19 cases will increase. Everyday Americans are braced for the potential impact on their health and bank accounts as the number of infections begins to climb.
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Despite McConnell's newfound desire to negotiate, the big question is what concessions both sides will be willing to make. As of Wednesday evening, it appeared that Republicans would retain control of the Senate, giving them the upper hand in any ongoing negotiations. However, McConnell did concede they might need to do more for state and local funding.
To complicate matters, there's still a vast gulf to bridge. Democrats have pushed for a relief package worth an estimated $2.2 trillion. In addition to restoring the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit boost, Democrats want another round of stimulus payments, housing assistance, funds for education, additional dollars for the Paycheck Protection Program, and $10 billion in food assistance. Shortly before the election, the White House offered a deal worth $1.8 trillion, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined, concerned that it did not do enough toward COVID-19 testing. In the meantime, a swath of Senate Republicans have been reluctant to support a package exceeding $1 trillion.
McConnell's interest in restarting stimulus negotiations comes as a surprise to those who assumed that Congress's lame duck session would deepen the stalemate. Instead, McConnell said that he and Pelosi agree on the need for an omnibus bill in December that provides both coronavirus relief and funds the government, avoiding an end-of-the-year government shutdown.
For millions of Americans still hoping for another stimulus check, the coming weeks are sure to be full of interesting conversations in Washington.
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