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 McConnell (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 Romney (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Susan Collins (Maine) as well as Democratic Sens. Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Warner (Va.), Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. 

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 Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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. 

Tags bipartisan Senate group Chris Coons Chuck Schumer Coronavirus coronavirus relief negotiations Dick Durbin government funding bill Joe Manchin Mark Warner Michael Bennet Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Rob Portman Susan Collins

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