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Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate

Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators is holding discussions to try to get a deal on a fifth round of coronavirus relief amid a months-long stalemate between congressional leadership and the White House. 

The talks, confirmed to The Hill by four sources, are one of the first signs of life for a potential coronavirus agreement as congressional Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Biden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial MORE (R-Ky.) and the White House have remained far apart on both the price tag and the policy details. 

The group includes Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (Maine) as well as Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden EPA asks Justice Dept. to pause defense of Trump-era rules | Company appeals rejection of Pebble Mine | Energy pick Granholm to get hearing Wednesday Nomination hearing for Biden Energy pick Granholm set for Wednesday Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Social media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots MORE (Va.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (Colo.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care — Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely' cost lives in coronavirus fight | CDC changes COVID-19 vaccine guidance to allow rare mixing of Pfizer, Moderna shots | Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. 

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Senators involved in the talks are eyeing an eventual government funding deal as a vehicle for coronavirus relief. Congress has to fund the government — either with a full-year omnibus or with a short-term continuing resolution — by Dec. 11. 

Any effort to revive the chances of another coronavirus deal faces an uphill path, even as cases climb across the country and some cities and states reinstate restrictions to try to curb the spread of the disease heading into what health experts expect to be a brutal winter season. 

McConnell has stood firm at pushing for a roughly $500 billion spending package similar to what has been blocked twice in the Senate. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDivide and conquer or unite and prosper Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday Roe is not enough: Why Black women want an end to the Hyde Amendment MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDivide and conquer or unite and prosper Roe is not enough: Why Black women want an end to the Hyde Amendment National Guard back inside Capitol after having been moved to parking garage MORE (D-N.Y.) say $2.2 trillion is the starting line for any negotiations. 

Any deal crafted by the bipartisan group is likely to be significantly more modest and would need to get buy-in from leadership. Politico first reported details of the group. Portman indicated earlier this month that he was having bipartisan discussions on a "targeted" deal but didn't detail who was involved.

Programs created under the March CARES Act, including an evictions moratorium and beefed-up unemployment, are set to expire at the end of the year. Money provided to state and local governments currently can be used only for costs incurred this year, and senators are eager to provide another round of Paycheck Protection Program assistance to small businesses. 

Warner told MSNBC on Monday that it "would be stupidity on steroids if Congress didn't act before the holidays." 

"It would be the worst self-inflicted harm in recent times," he added.