Pelosi and McConnell look to break stimulus stalemate with key meetings

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Senior lawmakers in both parties are optimistic that McConnell and Pelosi will reach a deal on a coronavirus package, but no one seems to know exactly what form that will take — just that it will be decided in the next 24 hours or likely not at all.

Still, the logistics of how such a deal might move through Congress have started to come into focus.

Later Tuesday, House leaders plan to introduce the text of a $1.4 trillion omnibus to fund the government, the potential vehicle for any coronavirus deal. The current plan is to then introduce text of a coronavirus relief proposal as a potential amendment to the omnibus on Wednesday.

But the same two issues that have long bedeviled Pelosi and McConnell — Republican opposition to additional funding for local governments coupled with Democratic resistance to liability protections for businesses — remain.

Republicans have suggested dropping those two matters, and a bipartisan Senate negotiating group did so on Monday as it presented a $748 billion compromise bill with support from members in both parties. The bipartisan group also introduced a separate proposal that included liability protections for businesses and $160 billion in local government aid — but only one Democrat from the bipartisan group, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, supported the idea.

Democratic leaders have not said they will relent on money for local governments, though they may have to in order to get a deal this week.

“It’s just my impression from the way the negotiating group separated those two issues, it seems to take Sen. McConnell’s advice to leave those to the side and do what we can,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close McConnell ally.

McConnell reiterated his suggestion to table those two topics on Tuesday, noting that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also opened the door to the idea over the weekend.

“We all know the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package,” McConnell said. “It’s not like we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and of state and local government [assistance] in the very near future.”

Schumer has been critical of McConnell’s idea in recent weeks, saying state and local aid is key to any deal. But the New York Democrat wouldn’t say on Tuesday whether he’s open to dropping those demands for now.

While the bipartisan Senate proposal won’t be the final proposal, it did help break a stalemate that has persisted for months on Capitol Hill.

Until last week, McConnell had refused to consider any proposal that did not include liability protections for businesses and showed little appetite for going above a $500 billion relief bill Senate Republicans introduced earlier this year.

Pelosi, meanwhile, tried for months to negotiate with Mnuchin with little result. Democrats were demanding a relief bill of more than $2 trillion while Mnuchin would only go up to $1.8 trillion. Their talks fell apart just before the election and congressional leaders went weeks without showing any signs that they planned to address the coronavirus in the lame duck, despite a rapidly rising death toll and increasingly alarming economic conditions.

But the dozen centrist senators — with support from some moderate House members known as the Problem Solvers Caucus — helped jumpstart new talks by pushing out a $908 billion relief framework earlier this month.

The bipartisan Senate plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for small businesses, vaccine distribution, education and transportation as well as an extension of expiring unemployment provisions.

But some Republicans are concerned the bill text doesn’t reflect restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from going to abortions, and the text may need to be altered, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are also still pushing for stimulus checks to be sent directly to individuals and families.

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