Bipartisan group splitting $908 billion coronavirus proposal into two bills

Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is splitting its $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal into two packages as it prepares to release text on Monday. 

The plan, confirmed by a source familiar with the talks, will include a $160 billion proposal that ties together the two most controversial elements: more money for state and local governments and protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

The second proposal will total $748 billion and include ideas that garner broader support, including another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses, unemployment benefits, and more money for vaccine distribution, testing and schools. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a member of the group, announced earlier Sunday that it would release text on Monday.

“The plan is alive and well, and there is no way we’re going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ll have a bill produced for the American people tomorrow, $908 billion.”

Congress is quickly running out of time to cut a big deal on coronavirus relief, with lawmakers having until Friday to pass a government funding bill that will act as the vehicle for any agreement. But the bipartisan group has been negotiating for weeks, including over the weekend, to try to finalize its bill after announcing a framework earlier this month. 

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another member of the group, called the package “the only bipartisan game in town.” 

“We’re going to introduce a bill tomorrow night. Now, the leadership can discard it. I can’t govern that. I can only do that which is before me. … What Leader McConnell decides to do, I don’t have control over. I only can do what I can do,” Cassidy told CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

Splitting off the two most controversial items could make it easier to at least pass a smaller coronavirus agreement as part of a government funding deal as cases spike across the country, hospitals have warned about being over capacity, and some states and cities are reimposing lockdown measures with public health experts warning of a brutal winter. 

Members of GOP leadership, while saying the bipartisan group has been helpful at finding common ground, argue that a final agreement will need to be hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Democrats view state and local money as a top priority, and the Senate GOP leader has long called including protections against coronavirus lawsuits a “red line.” 

But McConnell suggested last week dropping both issues and including areas that have broad bipartisan agreement in a year-end deal that could be folded into a government funding deal. 

“We know what that common ground looks like. A new round of the Paycheck Protection Program so hard-hit small businesses can keep paying their people. The necessary investments in distribution to get lifesaving vaccines out to our people. An extension of some unemployment programs that will otherwise expire in just a matter of days,” McConnell said. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, didn’t rule out supporting a slimmed-down deal, though he said he wanted to “carefully screen it.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Sunday also appeared open to a deal that didn’t include state and local money. 

“If we can get [state and local assistance], we want to get it, but we want to get aid out to the people who are really, really struggling and are at great risk,” he told CNN’s Abby Phillip during an interview on “Inside Politics.” 

Tags Bill Cassidy Dick Durbin Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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