Stimulus update: Bipartisan COVID-19 bill gains support; $300 weekly unemployment a ‘good start’

A COVID-19 relief plan put forth by a bipartisan group of lawmakers is gaining some steam on Capitol Hill, stoking hopes that small businesses, airlines, cities and states will get some help soon.

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The plan gained important support on Thursday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, signaled their support for the plan.

“In the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” Pelosi and Schumer said. They said they would try to build upon the approach, which has support in the House from the bipartisan “problem solvers” coalition.

Pelosi has indicated she was willing to make concessions to the plan Democrats had floated earlier this year that called for more than $2 trillion in spending. Pelosi did say the proposal should be “used as a basis” to craft a relief plan for Americans as they entered the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $908 billion relief plan would provide aid through March with funding for unemployment insurance, aid to small businesses and COVID-19 liability insurance for businesses and universities.

It includes $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance that would provide an extra $300 weekly benefit for 18 weeks; $288 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program to assist small businesses; $16 billion for testing, vaccine development and distribution; $45 billion for airlines and mass transit; an extension of existing student loan payment deferrals and rental housing assistance; and a new liability provision to block pandemic-related lawsuits temporarily with the intent to give states time to develop their own plan.

Pelosi spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Thursday, the first time since the Nov. 3 General Election.

McConnell later told reporters, “We had a good conversation. I think we’re both interested in getting an outcome, both on the [spending bill to fund the government] and on a coronavirus package.”

Both McConnell and Pelosi have pledged to have a spending bill to fund the government before the government runs out of money on Dec. 11.

“We’ll have an agreement,” Pelosi said of the bill to fund the government.

In a speech from the floor of the Senate Thursday McConnell stressed the need for a bill to be limited to relief measures like money for distribution of vaccines, aid to schools and funds for the paycheck protection program that funneled money to businesses in order to help keep employees on the payroll.

”Why should these impactful and noncontroversial life-preservers be delayed one second longer?” McConnell asked. “At long last, let’s do what Congress does when we want an outcome. Let’s make law on all the subjects where we agree.”

One subject not mentioned in the proposal was a second stimulus check sent to millions of Americans. Neither Pelosi nor McConnell has addressed it directly since the bipartisan plan was announced this week.

President-elect Joe Biden also said he supported the plan, telling reporters that it would be a good starting point, but not all that is needed to help Americans saying it “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be the immediate help for a lot of things.”

President Donald Trump at first seemed to endorse the bill, but the White House backed off that support later.

Trump was asked if he supported “this bill” during a press conference, answering, “I will, and I think we are getting very close.”

The White House later clarified that Trump meant he supported McConnell’s relief bill, which comes in at $550 billion, not the bipartisan one.