2nd stimulus checks: $1,200 direct payments may be back on the table

Nation/world

The idea of a second round of direct payments may be making a comeback, according to a report from Politico’s Jake Sherman.

Sherman, who had been one of the leading reporters of the coronavirus relief negotiations, says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has softened his stance on the idea of $1,200 payments to most Americans.

The idea of another check has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic leadership in Congress.

Sherman reports it’s unlikely we’d see a compromise on the $908 billion bill floated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week, but instead a new measure hashed out and presented by leadership like McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The $908 billion proposal did not include stimulus checks.

Last week, Pelosi gave an optimistic assessment of the prospects for a mid-sized COVID-19 relief bill, teeing up expectations for a successful burst of legislative action to reverse months of frustration on pandemic relief.

Pelosi told reporters that she and McConnell were in sync on a plan to reach agreement on a massive omnibus spending bill and to add COVID-19 relief to it.

Pelosi said a bipartisan, middle-of-the-road plan being finalized by a diverse gaggle of senators that she has endorsed as a foundation for the relief bill is a good effort, even though it’s a significant retreat from where Democrats stood before the election.

“It’s a good product,” Pelosi said. “It’s not everything we want.”

Pelosi had dismissed an even larger package floated by moderates in September as inadequate, but said that the looming arrival of vaccines and Biden’s victory are a “game-changer” that should guarantee more aid next year and the elimination of the pandemic. She called the bill a bridge “until the inauguration and the emergence of the vaccine.”

The pace of the economic recovery has slowed, COVID-19 caseloads are spiraling and the daily death toll is surpassing records, a toxic statistical stew that shows the mandate for a second major relief package after months of failed promises. It’s also a promising moment after Biden rallied behind the bipartisan measure and top congressional Democrats began beating a retreat to endorse the $908 billion bipartisan framework as a way to build an agreement.

Some conservatives, including Republicans from COVID-19 hotspots like North Dakota and Iowa, said they were comfortable with an aid package carrying the almost $1 trillion price tag. The $908 billion cost is what many Republicans, McConnell included, signaled they were willing to accept this summer before scaling back their ambitions to maintain GOP unity.

The scaled-back, bipartisan measure is the product of talks involving Republicans Susan Collins, R-Maine; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, along with Democrats like Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Dick Durbin, of Illinois. Also lending credibility to the middle-of-the-road package is a well-intentioned “problem solvers” group that promises to deliver a bipartisan vote.

McConnell himself said a huge drop in Democratic demands — from more than $2 trillion to less than $1 trillion — was “at least movement in the right direction.”

And Trump weighed in to support the idea. Obtaining his necessary signature can be a bit of a high-wire act, especially since any COVID-19 relief is likely to be added to a catchall spending bill.

“I think they are getting very close and I want it to happen,” Trump said.

At stake is whether to provide at least some COVID-19 aid now rather than wait until Biden takes office. Businesses, especially airlines, restaurants and health providers, are desperate for help as caseloads spiral and deaths spike. Money to help states distribute vaccines is needed, and supplemental pandemic unemployment aid that provides additional weeks of jobless benefits expires at the end of the month.

Biden is supporting an additional aid package that’s as large as possible now. He said last week that an aid package developed by moderates “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be the immediate help for a lot of things.” He wants a relief bill to pass Congress now, with more aid to come next year.

The $908 billion measure would establish a $300 per week jobless benefit, send $160 billion to help state and local governments, boost schools and universities, revive popular “paycheck protection” subsidies for businesses, and bail out transit systems and airlines.

The new plan includes a liability shield for businesses and other organizations that have reopened their doors during the pandemic. It’s the first time Pelosi and Schumer have shown a willingness to consider the idea.

“There is momentum,” Pelosi said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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