Hill leaders press forward on Covid relief talks

Congressional leaders are making a last-ditch attempt to cobble together a stimulus deal before Congress adjourns for the year, hoping to quickly reach agreement on a relief package that’s eluded them for months.

Committee leaders in both chambers have begun negotiating noncontroversial aspects of the relief package, including small business funding, according to three senior aides familiar with the talks. Democrats insist this effort is in concert with the bipartisan Senate push to reach a deal and not in lieu of their proposal. Top Republicans, though, are much more pessimistic on the bipartisan group reaching consensus on the major remaining sticking points.

The move comes after bipartisan efforts to reach a deal took a hit Thursday as the stalemate between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continued.

Bipartisan negotiators are also pressing on. They’re beginning to draft $160 billion state and local aid language even though McConnell has signaled that Republicans likely won’t support a deal marrying that with a liability shield. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) suggested the group may need to leave the two major sticking points until next year, though Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the group isn’t giving up yet.

But this latest push at the leadership level — likely the last real chance a coronavirus relief deal comes together before next year — could provide a breakthrough in the long-running standoff. And the rogue group of Senate centrists has provided something of an outline of what can pass to boost health care spending, extend unemployment insurance benefits and send schools more money.

The committee discussions come as the pandemic continues to crush the U.S. with nearly 300,000 Americans dead and the economy faltering.

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