Pelosi says lawmakers are “close” to reaching deal on COVID relief proposal

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Washington — Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that Congress is “close” to reaching a deal on a coronavirus relief proposal, as bipartisan talks continue.

“I think that we’re close. That’s what they tell me, those who are negotiating,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s comments come after a bipartisan group of lawmakers circulated a framework for their $908 billion relief proposal on Wednesday. The six-page summary obtained by CBS News does not include specifics on liability protections and aid to state and local governments, two of the major sticking points in negotiations.

The summary includes an “agreement in principle to provide $160 billion” for state and local governments “as the basis for good faith negotiations,” which is critical for Democrats, as well as an “agreement in principle” on liability shields, a priority for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The summary also makes no mention of another round of direct payments to Americans, although it would reinstate a scaled-down version of the popular unemployment supplement that expired at the end of July. The proposal would provide an additional $300 per week benefit on top of unemployment insurance from the end of December until April of next year.

It would also extend unemployment programs set to expire at the end of December by 16 weeks, and provide $300 billion to the Small Business Administration for the popular Paycheck Protection Program.

The proposal would provide direct grants to state, territory, tribal and local governments for vaccine distribution and testing and tracing efforts, as well as funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It would provide $82 billion for education providers, and extend student loan forbearance through the end of April.

The bipartisan framework responds to the looming eviction crisis, providing $25 billion in rental assistance to states and local governments and extending an eviction moratorium through the end of January. It would also attempt to address the problem of food insecurity in the country, temporarily increasing SNAP benefits by 15% and extending pandemic nutrition services.

The framework also addresses funding for the airline industry and public transit, the U.S. Postal Service, agricultural subsidies and broadband expansion.

However, this framework does not amount to concrete legislative text, and lawmakers remain divided over the scale and scope of a relief package. There is a shrinking timeline for Congress to pass any relief proposal, as it also must negotiate and approve an omnibus government funding bill before December 18 to avert a government shutdown.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday that he had spoken to Speaker Nancy Pelosi this evening and made a $916 billion offer for a relief bill. But Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it “must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway.” They also rejected part of the White House proposal — a reduction in unemployment insurance funding from $180 billion to $40 billion. “That is unacceptable,” they wrote.

Schumer and Pelosi also condemned the suggestion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Congress drop the most controversial items from any coronavirus package to be picked up again at the beginning of the year.

Despite the disagreements at the top, the bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers will continue their negotiations, said Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer, one of the House members active in the coalition.

“We are literally on the five yard line now. Our bipartisan, bicameral group will keep working around-the-clock until we get this emergency package over the goal line. We have no choice but to get this done,” Gottheimer said in a statement to CBS News.





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