Lawmakers are inches toward the stimulus compromise

WASHINGTON – The victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and faster-than-expected breakthroughs in coronavirus vaccination have shifted the dynamics of stimulus talks in Congress, leading to the first serious bipartisan talks in months and authorizing the ranking of long-serving lawmakers for a compromise.

As many cities and states re-establish locks and the pace of job creation slows, congressmen and Mr. Biden face pressure to provide a financial lifeline to the economy until a large-scale vaccination forces the virus.

Mr Biden has taken public action in recent days to encourage lawmakers to come up with a quick aid package that he believes will only be an “advance” in terms of what the incoming administration considers necessary to alleviate the nation’s economic pain in the coming months. His team urged Democrats to step out of their hard-line negotiating position for a trillion-dollar-plus bill that did not trigger talks with Republicans and adopt a smaller, bipartisan proposal.

“I think we need to hand it over,” Mr. Biden said of the $ 908 billion proposal in an interview broadcast on CNN Thursday night, though he added, “I’ll have to ask for more help when we get there to get things done.”

California House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced such a move on Wednesday, placing their support behind the bipartisan $ 908 billion outline as a basis for resuming talks. The plan, which is still being finalized by lawmakers, would provide support until March, offering a new wave of support to small businesses and the unemployed, helping state and local governments, and temporarily protecting businesses from a few lawsuits amid a pandemic.

In the spirit of momentum, several Republicans have begun to consolidate the $ 908 billion envelope as a basis for resuming negotiations that have collapsed due to disagreements over its size and scope.

On Thursday, Ms Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, spoke for the first time since the November election about another aid package and spending bills needed to prevent the government’s December 11 shutdown. Mr. McConnell later told reporters that he and Ms. Pelosi were “both interested in getting results” on both issues.

“I never hoped to get a bill,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. He told reporters he supported the bipartisan framework and discussed mitigation of the coronavirus with President Trump in the White House on Thursday. But he added a little skepticism, given that McConnell decided to distribute a plan for a smaller aid package.

“I support what Senator McConnell wants to suggest,” Mr. Graham said, “but he has no democratic support.” I’m tired of holding show votes here.

Mr. Biden’s helpers, along with Capitol Hill Democrats, were worried about the possibility that the economy could fall back into recession in the new year as small business shutters and government benefits expire for millions of workers, giving him an even greater economic opportunity. challenge.

But Mr. Biden is on a delicate path to a possible compromise. He publicly urged an immediate agreement to provide more economic presidential assistance before he became president, and spoke in favor of a bipartisan framework. But he did not directly engage in negotiations between Ms Pelosi and Mr McConnell, as some lawmakers and assistants stressed that any immediate agreement would require Mr Trump’s signature – not Mr Biden’s.

“The president-elect has made it very clear that something needs to happen that the American people need help,” said MP Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia and several members of the House who worked on compromise legislation in order to break it. through the dead end. Asked if Mr. Biden should be more involved, he said it was better for Mr. Biden to play a supporting role while Trump remained president.

“There will be no president until January 20 – we can’t wait until January 20,” Ms. Spanberger said in an interview. – I don’t think it’s appropriate. He’s not the president yet.

The question of whether Mr Trump would support a final compromise remains a wild card. On Thursday, when asked if he agreed with Mr. McConnell that the pandemic relief was “visible,” and whether he would support “this bill,” Trump replied in the affirmative. “I do, and I think we’re very close to each other,” Trump told reporters.

Although it was initially unclear which bill Trump was willing to sign, the White House later clarified that it was a draft of a smaller Republican bill that McConnell supported.

In contrast to the fall, when Republicans and Democrats alike had political incentives not to opt for an agreement, statements by Mr. Biden and his congressional allies in recent days show that lawmakers see compromises in their interests. Depending on the outcome, stimulus plans could become a key issue in Georgia’s run-down elections, which decide on the Senate’s January scrutiny.

Even with the renewed movement, an agreement is not certain.

Mr. McConnell, who has constantly criticized Democrats as wanting an overly expensive package, acknowledged that “it was nice to see some signs of hope” at the talks this week. But McConnell in his remarks on Thursday stopped approving the compromise plan, calling on lawmakers to focus on policy provisions where there is significant consensus, and signaling that it will not quickly abandon its targeted proposal.

Even when he stated that “a compromise is within reach”, he did not explicitly comment on the bipartisan framework. Nor is it clear what the top democrats would insist on in the final bill.

But Capitol Hill lawmakers and aides have acknowledged that the devastating spike in coronavirus cases across the country has given impetus to the discussions. Even a smaller, immediate agreement would finance the direct distribution of vaccines – an option that appeared after the elections – and would leave open the possibility of another aid package under the Biden government.

“This is a combination of the logistical costs and difficulties of vaccine distribution and the dramatic jump in cases, hospital care and deaths,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and long-time ally of Mr. Biden, who is involved in the discussions. . “For everyone, I think we’re having a very hard winter before the vaccine is widely available.”

In mid-November, talks began between a loose bipartisan group of senators about a possible deal, according to four officials familiar with the behind-the-scenes conversations, who asked for anonymity to describe them. Participants agreed to meet at a dinner on November 17, two weeks after election day, at Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski’s home in Capitol Hill, two weeks after election day, to see if they could confuse the plan. Senator Mark Warner, a moderate Virginia Democrat, picked up food and drink from San Lorenzo, who favored Tuscan food for Washington’s political department. After the victory in Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins agreed to host it.

They were joined by three more Senate Democrats – Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the party’s runner-up, and two other Senate Republicans, Bill Cassidy, Louisiana and Mitt Romney Utah.

The conversation was productive enough to quickly get into the almost daily series of Zoom sessions that continued — sometimes for hours — on Thanksgiving. They are pleased with their development, the senators involved have called themselves a dry “dinner group”.

The party leadership was kept informed, but the senators conducted most of the negotiations themselves. Despite a higher Senate rank, Mr. Romney, his party’s 2012 presidential candidate, appeared early as a driving force in negotiations with Mr. Warner. He insisted that Republicans should not exceed roughly $ 900 billion in new spending — a number hovered as a possible compromise figure by Ms. Collins — and that employers ’liability protection should be involved in some form.

The proposal was announced Monday night at a pizza dinner hosted by Mr. Romney in an oversized hearing room. It provides $ 300 a week in supplementary benefits for the unemployed for 18 weeks after the $ 600 a week in unemployment benefits expired in July. This includes $ 288 billion for distressed small businesses, restaurants and theaters, and $ 160 billion for oppressed cities and states, and most likely includes some liability protection for businesses.

The framework presented on Tuesday quickly gained momentum from Mr. Biden. And in a statement on CNN on Thursday, he noted that he believed in Ms Pelosi, Mr Schumer and Mr Coons breaking the deadlock, adding that he was “relying on their judgment” to define “the most basic things that are needed now. . “

Luke Broadwater, Thomas Kaplan and Michael D. Shear contributed to the reports.