Senate

McConnell opens door to smaller coronavirus relief deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday appeared to open the door to a smaller coronavirus relief package than the proposal unveiled by Republicans earlier this week. 

McConnell, asked about soon-to-expire unemployment benefits, said that neither party wants them to expire, which is set to formally happen on Friday. 

“Many things around here happen at the last minute. This is only Wednesday, so hope springs eternal that we’ll reach some kind of agreement either on a broad basis or a more narrow basis to avoid having an adverse impact on unemployment,” McConnell told “PBS NewsHour.”

Asked if he was seriously looking at either a smaller bill or a short-term option, he added, “We’re looking at all options.”

McConnell’s remarks, the first time he’s appeared open to a smaller bill, come as top Trump administration officials and a growing number of Republican lawmakers have signaled an openness to getting a pared-down agreement as talks with Democrats have yielded little progress. 

What would be included in a smaller agreement has not been agreed upon, with GOP senators saying myriad ideas were being discussed as they try to break the stalemate. 

Some Republicans have floated doing a stand-alone vote on a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, but White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to shoot that down, saying it had been ruled out by Democrats and that the enhanced benefits will expire on Friday. 

Under the March coronavirus deal, Congress agreed to a $600-per-week increase of unemployment benefits. As drafted, the enhancement will formally expire on Friday, but because of the calendar and how states distribute benefits, they began to expire on Saturday.

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have met each day this week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to try to reach an agreement. But after their latest meeting on Wednesday, they were frank about the lack of progress being made so far. 

“We’re still miles apart on a number of issues,” Meadows said. “In fact, I would say there are more issues we’re apart on than where we’re closer to consensus.” 

With that in mind, Mnuchin said, President Trump is still pressing for a short-term extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits along with some kind of assistance for renters who would otherwise face eviction threats. 

“The president wants us most focused on this issue of enhanced unemployment,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin also pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program, school funding, retention tax credits, rental assistance and a bipartisan proposal providing $10 billion to community development banks as areas where a deal appears likely.

Meadows and Mnuchin also noted that areas where they remain far apart include liability protections for businesses and a new round of funding for state and local governments.  

“We are still very far apart on a lot of issues,” Mnuchin said. “I do think there’s a subset of issues that we do agree on, but overall we’re far from an agreement.”

Mike Lillis contributed. 

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus Coronavirus relief bill Donald Trump Mark Meadows Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steven Mnuchin Unemployment benefits
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