Congress returns home for Thanksgiving without pandemic relief deal
But there is some hope that the resumption of talks could see some sort of coronavirus relief aid in the weeks to come, even with little time left on the legislative calendar before the end of the year.
Democratic aides told ABC News that congressional “Big Four” staff gathered on Thursday to discuss ways to fit coronavirus aid into a must-see spending bill that must authorize both houses Congress by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown. The “Big Four” includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Democratic and Republican leaders had previously rejected the idea of combining the massive omnibus spending bill with any sort of coronavirus relief – saying the two issues need to be addressed separately – but as the pandemic rages with a staggering number of infected and dying, and millions of people without jobs and economic assistance, this could be lawmakers’ last chance to secure legislation that addresses both spending issues across the finish line before the end of the year.
“Last night they agreed to sit down and the staff are going to sit down today or tomorrow to try and start seeing if we can get a real good bill for COVID relief,” Schumer told reporters Thursday in New York. “So there was a little breakthrough in having the McConnell people finally sit down and talk to us.”
Schumer and Pelosi are scheduled to meet with President-elect Joe Biden on Friday in Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier this week, Biden called on Congress to immediately pass a relief package.
Republican advisers told ABC News that discussions among staff members on Thursday were strictly about passing the omnibus spending bill – which would fund the government until next year – and were unrelated to any additional relief from coronaviruses.
The back-and-forth comes amid concerns over the coronavirus’ toll on the U.S. economy as critical pandemic relief programs are to be shut down by the end of the year.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which helps self-employed or part-time workers, are due to expire on the 31st. December.
The national moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of the year, along with the student loan forbearance program, which President Donald Trump implemented by executive order.
Tax credits for compulsory paid sick leave and family sick leave for the self-employed will also expire.
The paycheck protection program to help small business owners stopped receiving claims in August. And the $ 600 federal unemployment insurance expired at the end of July.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession will not end without our help. It is essential that this bill has sufficient funding and brings significant relief to the many Americans who are suffering. For the good of the country, we ask you to come to the table and work with us to produce an agreement that meets America’s needs at this critical time, ”Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell earlier in the week, urging the leader Republican to meet them at the negotiating table.
Congress stalled on a bailout plan as Democrats demand more than $ 2 trillion in new relief funds, while Republicans in the Senate set their sights on a much lower figure of $ 500 billion .
“To sum up, I’m open to a targeted bill, roughly the amount we recommended – half a trillion dollars, which is no small amount – narrowly targeting schools and health care providers, in the PPP, and of course civil liability reform, to prevent America from engaging in an epidemic of post-pandemic losses. Very open to that. But I haven’t seen any evidence yet because several of my colleagues suggested they were open to it, ”McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
Despite the stalemate, the leaders of Congress have not failed to point the finger.
“President Pelosi and the Democratic leader have been equally consistent and they don’t think Congress should do anything unless they cash a far left ideological wishlist,” McConnell said this week.
McCarthy slammed Pelosi on Thursday for sending House members home for the Thanksgiving vacation without passing relief aid.
“President Pelosi’s approach that nothing is better than something is wrong. And everyone knows it, and the American people have paid the price. And now the Democrats are crying out loud to go home for the rest of the year. It’s a shame, ”McCarthy said.
“There is a roadblock. There is a big wall that stopped this all the time. It’s President Pelosi, ”said McCarthy. “It would be very helpful if we could have President Pelosi to stop the political games. I mean, how could she send people home? “
Meanwhile, House Democrats passed two massive back-up plans that Senate Republicans refused to accept: a plan over $ 3 trillion passed in May and a slightly watered-down version of $ 2.2 billion. of dollars adopted in October.
McConnell and Senate Republicans have proposed a targeted $ 500 billion bill that would focus primarily on extending unemployment benefits, liability protections and strengthening the paycheck protection program, which helps workers small enterprises.
ABC News’s Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.