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McConnell Sticking With Partisan Plan  12/02 06:12

   Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said he's largely sticking with a 
partisan, scaled-back COVID-19 relief bill that has already failed twice this 
fall, even as Democratic leaders and a bipartisan group of moderates offered 
concessions in hopes of passing pandemic aid before Congress adjourns for the 
year.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said he's largely 
sticking with a partisan, scaled-back COVID-19 relief bill that has already 
failed twice this fall, even as Democratic leaders and a bipartisan group of 
moderates offered concessions in hopes of passing pandemic aid before Congress 
adjourns for the year.

   The Kentucky Republican made the announcement Tuesday after President-elect 
Joe Biden called upon lawmakers to pass a down payment relief bill now with 
more to come next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resumed talks with Treasury 
Secretary Steven Mnuchin about a year-end spending package that could include 
COVID-19 relief provisions. Key Senate moderates rallied behind a scaled-back 
framework.

   It's unclear whether the flurry of activity will lead to progress. Time is 
running out on Congress' lame-duck session and Donald Trump's presidency, many 
Republicans won't even acknowledge that Trump has lost the election and good 
faith between the two parties remains in short supply.

   McConnell said that his bill, which only modestly tweaks an earlier plan 
blocked by Democrats, would be signed by Trump and that additional legislation 
could pass next year. But his initiative fell flat with Democrats and a key GOP 
moderate.

   "If it's identical to what (McConnell) brought forth this summer then it's 
going to be a partisan bill that is not going to become law," said Sen. Susan 
Collins, R-Maine, who joined moderates in unveiling a $908 billion bipartisan 
package only hours earlier. "And I want a bill that will become law."

   Democrats declined to release details of their concessions to McConnell.

   "Speaker Pelosi and I sent him the proposal in a good faith effort to start, 
to get him to negotiate in a bipartisan way," Schumer said.

   McConnell's response was to convene conversations with the Trump team and 
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. During the campaign, Trump 
appeared eager to sign a relief bill and urged lawmakers to "go big" but 
McConnell said Tuesday's modest measure is all he'll go for now.

   "We don't have time for messaging games. We don't have time for lengthy 
negotiations," McConnell said. "I would hope that this is something that could 
be signed into law by the president, be done quickly, deal with the things we 
can agree on now." He added that there would still be talks about "some 
additional package of some size."

   McConnell's reworked plan swiftly leaked. A summary ignores key demands of 
Democrats and moderates such as aid to states and local governments and 
additional unemployment benefits.

   In Wilmington, Delaware, Biden called on lawmakers to approve a down payment 
on COVID-19 relief, though he cautioned that "any package passed in lame-duck 
session is --- at best -- just a start."

   And a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a split-the-difference solution 
to the protracted impasse over COVID-19 relief in a last-gasp effort to ship 
overdue help to a hurting nation before Congress adjourns for the holidays. It 
was a sign that some lawmakers across the spectrum are reluctant to adjourn for 
the year without approving some COVID-19 aid.

   The group includes Senate centrists such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and 
Collins, who hope to exert greater influence in a closely divided Congress 
during the incoming Biden administration.

   The proposal by the bipartisan group hit the scales at $908 billion, 
including $228 billion to extend and upgrade "paycheck protection" subsidies 
for businesses for a second round of relief to hard-hit businesses like 
restaurants. It would revive a special jobless benefit, but at a reduced level 
of $300 per week rather than the $600 benefit enacted in March. State and local 
governments would receive $160 billion, and there is also money for vaccines.

   Previous, larger versions of the proposal --- a framework with only limited 
detail --- were rejected by top leaders such as Pelosi, D-Calif., and 
McConnell. But pressure is building as lawmakers face the prospect of heading 
home for Christmas and New Year's without delivering aid to people in need.

   Lawmakers' bipartisan effort comes after a split-decision election delivered 
the White House to Democrats and gave Republicans down-ballot success. At less 
than $1 trillion, it is less costly than a proposal meshed together by 
McConnell this summer. He later abandoned that effort for a considerably less 
costly measure that failed to advance in two attempts this fall.

   "It's not a time for political brinkmanship," Manchin said. "Emergency 
relief is needed now more than ever before. The people need to know that we are 
not going to leave until we get something accomplished."

   Pelosi and Mnuchin were discussing COVID-19 relief and other end-of-session 
items, including a $1.4 trillion catchall government funding bill. Mnuchin told 
reporters as he arrived at a Senate Banking Committee hearing to assess earlier 
COVID-19 rescue efforts that he and Pelosi are focused primarily on the 
unfinished appropriations bills, however.

   "On COVID relief, we acknowledged the recent positive developments on 
vaccine development and the belief that it is essential to significantly fund 
distribution efforts to get us from vaccine to vaccination," Pelosi said 
afterward.

   Pelosi and Mnuchin grappled over a relief bill for weeks before the November 
election, discussing legislation of up to $2 trillion. But Senate GOP 
conservatives opposed their efforts and Pelosi refused to yield on key points.

   The bipartisan compromise proposal is virtually free of detail, but includes 
a temporary shield against COVID-19-related lawsuits against businesses and 
other organizations that have reopened despite the pandemic.

   That's a priority for McConnell. But his warnings of a wave of destructive 
lawsuits haven't been borne out, and it is sure to incite opposition from the 
trial lawyers' lobby, which retains considerable influence with top Democratic 
leaders.

   The centrist lawmakers, both moderates and conservatives, billed their 
proposal as a temporary patch to hold things over until next year. It contains 
$45 billion for transportation, including aid to transit systems and Amtrak, 
$82 billion to reopen schools and universities, funding for vaccines and health 
care providers, and money for food stamps, rental assistance and the Postal 
Service.

 
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