US lawmakers plan to split $908-billion Covid-19 plan

Reuters Washington | Updated on December 14, 2020

Two measures — one for $748 billion and the other for $160 billion — could be voted on separately

A $908-billion bipartisan Covid-19 relief plan set to be introduced in the US Congress as early as Monday will be split into two packages in a bid to win approval, a person briefed on the matter said.

The plan’s highlights were made public on December 1, but the authors now plan to divide them into two proposals that could be voted on separately, the source said.

One will be a $748-billion measure, which contains money for small businesses, the jobless and Covid-19 vaccine distribution. The other will include some key sticking points — liability protections for business and $160 billion for state and local governments.

The leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One of the sponsors of the $908-billion plan, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, said earlier on Sunday it would be introduced formally on Monday.

“The plan is alive and well and there’s no way, no way that we are going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people,” Manchin told said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on Sunday for 30 minutes with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “to discuss the latest developments on the omnibus and Covid talks,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.

“The speaker reiterated her view that a compromise on the liability issue should be found that does not jeopardise workers safety,” Hammill said.

Also on Sunday, House No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer suggested his party might be willing to accept a coronavirus relief deal without the state and local aid that Democrats have been insisting should be part of it.

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Aid negotiations

Congressional negotiators have been trying for months to reach agreement on a new coronavirus aid bill, after Congress approved $3 trillion in relief earlier this year.

Leading lawmakers would like to attach the Covid-19 aid package to a massive bill funding the government, that needs to be done by Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, suggested last week scrapping aid to state and local governments (a Democratic priority that many Republicans oppose) as well as liability protections for business (a Republican priority opposed by many Democrats) in order to break the stalemate.

But top Democrats rejected that idea, saying that dropping new aid to state and local governments would put at risk the jobs of police, firefighters and other frontline public workers battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. airlines would receive $17 billion for four months of payroll support under the $908-billion plan, while public transit systems would receive $15 billion and there would be $4 billion for airports and $1 billion for passenger railroad Amtrak, the sponsors said on December 1.

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Published on December 14, 2020

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