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 RubioDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit Poll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field 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 GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles 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 LankfordCOVID faith: Are your religious views 'sincerely held'? Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops 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 RobertsBob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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 MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Graham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid MORE met with a core group of GOP senators — including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.) and Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism 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 BluntRoy Blunt has helped forge and fortify the shared bonds between Australia and America The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (R-Mo.) questioned what a smaller deal would have to look like for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book 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 SchumerDemocrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill 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 BurrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam 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 CornynSenate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan 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.