Bipartisan, bicameral group unveils $908 billion coronavirus proposal

A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal on Tuesday as leadership faces growing pressure to cut a deal.

The measure, rolled out by more than a dozen members from the House and Senate, comes as cases are climbing across the country and Congress is running out of time to clinch a long-stalled fifth relief bill with lawmakers scheduled to leave for the year as soon as next week.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.) said it would be "inexcusable" for Congress to leave town for the year without providing more coronavirus relief with a slew of assistance programs set to expire within weeks.


"This is a COVID emergency relief framework," Manchin said. "It's not the time for political brinkmanship. ... This is going to get us through the most difficult times."

The bill, according to a framework released on Tuesday, would provide another $160 billion for states and cities  a top priority for Democrats  $180 billion for unemployment insurance and $288 billion for more small business assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program.

The unemployment benefits would break down to $300 a week for 18 weeks, retroactive to Dec. 1. That’s half of the $600 per week included under the CARES Act from late March.

It also includes billions in assistance for transportation-related industries like airlines, $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution and more money for things like schools, child care and the Postal Service.

The funds, according to senators, would run through the first quarter of 2021 in an effort to provide states and businesses a bridge to get through what health experts are predicting will be a brutal winter. Though the stock market has hit record highs, the spread of the coronavirus has devastated small businesses and killed more than 268,000 people in the U.S., according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“It’s been said, this is not what everybody would wish. People are going to look at these buckets and they’re going to say, 'Well, my bucket isn’t there,' or 'My bucket is only half full.' Well, this is… emergency relief. This is designed to get us through this next quarter,” said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-Alaska).


In a hat tip to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHas Trump beaten the system? Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony MORE (R-Ky.), the proposal would provide a short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits until states could come up with their own protections.

The bill's price tag is about double the $500 billion being pushed for by McConnell and roughly half of the $2.2 trillion viewed by House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiYellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (N.Y.) as the starting point for negotiations.

The senators in the group have been meeting in-person or virtually every day for weeks, except on Thanksgiving, to try to craft the proposal amid growing frustration about the inability for McConnell, the White House and congressional Democratic leadership to make progress toward a deal.

"It's not gonna make everybody happy but there's been an enormous amount of work done," said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Senators introduce bipartisan bill to secure critical groups against hackers Hillicon Valley: Senators introduce bill to require some cyber incident reporting | UK citizen arrested in connection to 2020 Twitter hack | Officials warn of cyber vulnerabilities in water systems MORE (D-Va.), adding that it would be "stupidity on steroids" to leave for the year without passing more assistance.

For the proposal to go anywhere, it would need to get buy-in from leadership in both parties and both chambers. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE are expected to talk about coronavirus relief on Tuesday for the first time since October.

The group has been in touch with McConnell, Mnuchin and Schumer, though lawmakers stopped well short of pledging buy-in.

“We have communicated with Secretary Mnuchin about our negotiations. He hasn’t weighed in as to whether he agrees or disagrees. He’s offered some advice in terms of figures,” said Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal Schumer leaves door open for second vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-Utah).

Lawmakers acknowledged that their proposal was likely to not please factions on both sides of the aisle, but offered it as a compromise that could break the weeks-long stalemate.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE (R-Maine) added that it was "absolutely essential that we pass emergency relief."

The push by the bipartisan group comes as a growing number of rank-and-file Democrats have said they are open to a bill below Pelosi and Mnuchin’s figure of $2.2 trillion.

McConnell and Schumer traded blame on Tuesday for the lack of progress among leadership toward a deal.

“Let’s hope our Democratic colleague will finally let us make law in all the enormously important areas where we do not even disagree,” McConnell said.


Schumer fired back that the bill being pushed by McConnell was full of “poison pills,” adding that “the Republican leader’s idea of action has been to bring partisan legislation to the floor and then demand everyone accept it.”

Lawmakers are running out of time to get a deal before 2021, with the House scheduled to leave for the year next week. Congress also has to fund the government by Dec. 11, a deadline that lawmakers have floated could be a vehicle for passing some coronavirus relief. 

But top GOP senators indicated this week that coronavirus relief is currently not being included in negotiations over the year-end spending omnibus.

“Don’t look good there,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThis week: Senate faces infrastructure squeeze GOP seeks to make Biden synonymous with inflation Funding fight imperils National Guard ops MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters about the chances of the stimulus.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? GOP fumes over Schumer hardball strategy Cybersecurity bills gain new urgency after rash of attacks MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Appropriations Committee, indicated that COVID-19 and government funding are on separate tracks, for now at least.

“I do think that we’re on the track we’re headed that [it’s] Chairman Shelby’s view that we need to do the omnibus and get it done and then decide are you going to do … some COVID package,” Blunt said.

Updated at 11:23 a.m.