Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag

A growing number of Senate Republicans are signaling an openness to putting forward a smaller coronavirus package as bipartisan talks on the next comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill appear to be making little progress.

Talk about either a pared-back agreement, or a short-term extension of expiring provisions, like enhanced unemployment insurance, comes as the Trump administration and congressional Democrats remain far apart on a larger bipartisan agreement. 

"That may need to happen," said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPompeo: Trump taking action on Chinese software firms 'in coming days' Bass: 'Lesson learned' on 2016 Castro comments Trump campaign targets Bass amid speculation over Biden VP pick MORE (R-Fla.). "I mean, ultimately ... we're not going to have a universal agreement in place by Friday, so there may be some things that have to be done that way." 

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNavarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' Graham defends Trump on TikTok, backs Microsoft purchase The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (R-S.C.) added that he would be "okay" with a smaller package that would let negotiations continue on unresolved issues. 

"I'm OK with that. We got to fix the employment package because you're paying people 150 percent more than they were making and that skews the economy. But yeah, I don't mind doing some interim package," he said. 

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Ballooning Fed balance sheet sparks GOP concerns  The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Lauren Underwood says Americans face economic crisis if Senate fails to act on unemployment benefits extension; US surpasses 4 million cases, 1,000+ deaths for third straight day MORE (R-Okla.) said he would support a short-term package, adding Congress needed to deal with liability protections and other "essential" items. And Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag GOP group books ads for Kansas Senate primary MORE (R-Kan.) added a short-term plan was "an option." 

"We're talking about all sorts of options," he said. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows: Election will be held on November third White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE met with a core group of GOP senators — including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Overnight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting McConnell wants FBI money out of coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ala.) and Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderChamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag MORE (R-Tenn.) — a meeting senators characterized less as Mnuchin and Meadows pitching senators on a specific agreement than taking the temperature of lawmakers.  

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"They didn't match a pitch. They were just explaining where they thought we were and asking for ideas," a GOP senator in the meeting said. 

They added that Mnuchin and Meadows did not repeat Trump's pitch, which he floated as he was leaving the White House, of doing a smaller deal on an eviction moratorium and unemployment insurance. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pelosi to require masks on House floor GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (R-Mo.) questioned what a smaller deal would have to look like for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency MORE (R-Ky.) to agree to put it on the floor. 

"I don't think there's any consensus on what [a] smaller package would be to have the support it would need yet, but I think Secretary Mnuchin and Mark Meadows have done a good job and continue to do a good job of reaching out to be sure that everybody has to be a part of that discussion," he added. 

Blunt added, "I'm sure there are smaller combinations we would like, and smaller combinations we wouldn't like. It depends on what smaller means." 

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The talk of doing a smaller agreement or a short-term extension of expiring payments like federal unemployment benefits comes as bipartisan talks between congressional Democrats and the administration appear to be making little progress. 

And McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery MORE (D-N.Y.) spent their morning trading shots over who was to blame for the lack of progress.

“But now, the Speaker of the House apparently signaled she rejects this bipartisan consensus and will not let a package go forward unless we continue paying people more not to work,” McConnell said, referring to the $600 per week unemployment boost that was included in the March bill.

Schumer fired back that “it’s abundantly clear that the Senate Republican proposal for the next phase of COVID relief is not a useful starting point” and that McConnell is “drawing lines” by insisting his liability reform proposal get in the bill.

But Republicans say they still want a broader package that would wrap all of the issues into one bill, and there is opposition from some for doing a smaller bill. 

Emerging from a closed-door Republican lunch, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review MORE (R-N.C.) said they were still discussing it as a larger package. 

"There's no short-term package," he said. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE (R-Texas) added after the meeting with Meadows and Mnuchin that he did not support a short-term package. 

"We need to solve the problem," he said.