Top Democrats have expressed support for a $908bn stimulus plan offered by a bipartisan group of US senators, in a compromise aimed at breaking the logjam that has stopped Congress from delivering more aid to Americans suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, and Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, agreed to use the bipartisan proposal — introduced on Tuesday by Republican senator Susan Collins and Democratic senator Mark Warner — as the basis for talks after months of gridlock on Capitol Hill.
The two Democrats said they were embracing the plan in “the spirt of compromise” because of the urgency of the situation. More than 261,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic struck in March. The US is bracing for what experts have warned will be a “dark winter” as the country continues to struggle to contain the virus.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a $3tn package in May, before scaling back their ambitions to $2.2tn in October. But even then they remained far apart from Republicans, who control the Senate, which prevented a bill passing before the US presidential election.
The bipartisan Senate proposal announced on Tuesday would allocate $288bn for small businesses, which have borne the brunt of the pandemic. It would also plough $180bn into unemployment benefits, with millions of Americans still out of work, and provide $160bn to state and local governments, among its more costly measures.
“The bipartisan framework introduced by senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer said on Wednesday. “Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement.”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, privately circulated a new stimulus plan on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. But it was expected to be a non-starter, coming in at just over $300bn and failing to address key Democratic priorities.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr McConnell tweeted: “I hope Democrats will finally let us get a bipartisan outcome soon.”
After months of impasse, the Democratic shift came just hours after Jay Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, reiterated their pleas to lawmakers for action, particularly as the US records another surge in coronavirus cases due in part to people travelling over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“My view would be that it would be very helpful and very important that there be additional fiscal support for the economy, really to get us through the winter,” Mr Powell told the House financial services committee. “We made a lot of progress faster than we expected, and now we have a big spike in Covid cases and it may weigh on economic activity.”
Speaking alongside Mr Powell in a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Mr Mnuchin called on Congress to take action during the lame-duck period before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president in January.
He said “something is clearly better than nothing”, as he criticised Ms Pelosi for previously refusing to pare back demands to a level that was more acceptable to Republicans during months of on again, off again talks.
“The speaker has had a half a loaf is not good enough [stance] and wanted a full loaf,” Mr Mnuchin said. “I would encourage Congress, particularly over the next few weeks in the lame duck, let’s try to get something done.”
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