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 McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week 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 RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE (Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (Maine) as well as Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (Va.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetInterior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals MORE (Colo.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI 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 PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget   'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden 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.