MORGANTOWN -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., led off a bipartisan group of 16 U.S. senators and representatives announcing a $908 billion COVID-19 emergency relief framework package they hope to bring to both floors for a vote.
"We've worked in the best interest of what we believe is right for our country, " Manchin said. "It's good for our states. ... It's inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement. It's not the time for political brinkmanship. ... I'm committed to seeing this through."
CARES Act funding is set to expire at the end of the year, Manchin said. If passed into law, this package would serve retroactively from Tuesday -- Dec. 1 -- through March 31.
Nearly all of the lawmakers remarked on the surging COVID numbers and the ongoing hardships.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, "We recognize that families all across America are struggling, that businesses are closing, that hospitals are overwhelmed."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, noted he's a fiscal hawk who's opposed to unnecessary borrowing, but borrowing is merited in a crisis and this is a crisis. "It's simply unacceptable for us not to respond, to help in this circumstance."
He emphasized that this is not a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill but a targeted emergency relief bill. It repurposes $560 billion left from the CARES Act and adds $348 billion of new money.
The framework targets 16 areas of need, as can be seen at this link. Among them: state, local and tribal governments, $160 billon ; additional unemployment insurance ($300 weekly for 18 weeks), $180 billion ; continuing the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, $288 billion ; vaccine development and distribution, COVID testing and tracing, $16 billion ; Healthcare Provider Relief Fund, $35 billion ; student loan forbearance, $4 billion ; rental assistance, $25 billion ; daycare, $10 billion.
The framework also provides short-term liability from COVID-related lawsuits for businesses, schools, hospitals and universities to allow states time to draft their own liability laws. The provision doesn't involve pending and doesn't carry a price tag.
The framework, being a limited emergency relief package, does not include a second round of $1, 200 individual stimulus checks favored by President Trump and some lawmakers.
The lawmakers agreed that not everyone got what they wanted, but they were able to come together on these point in order to bridge the country into a new administration and through the first financial quarter of the year.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J, co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, said the caucus has endorsed the proposal. Having the approval of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans gives it a strong support base in the House.
The lawmakers said this proposal is a framework but they plan to turn it into a bill "very soon."
They said they have no promises from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring it to their respective floors for votes.
"I think the American people will put the pressure, showing that there's a group of us coming together that this needs to be done, " Manchin said. "We're determined not to go home until we do something."
Gottheimer agreed. "I think that pressure is going to really get this to a floor for a vote."
Romney said they've talked with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about the framework, and Mnuchin provided some dollar figures drawn from his previous negotiations with Pelosi, but the White House hasn't otherwise weighed in.
The Dominion Post contacted Rep. David McKinley and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito for comment. McKinley did not respond.
Capito said in an email exchange: "To date, Republicans have offered targeted relief legislation, voted in favor of enhanced unemployment benefits and standalone emergency funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and offered ideas and solutions to Minority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi. Democrats blocked it all.
"I'm glad that after all of this, some of my Democrat colleagues have finally decided to begin working across the aisle, " she said. "This is a good start and I support many parts of today's proposal. The legislation my colleagues put forth today includes some similar provisions that are in the targeted relief legislation Republicans introduced back in July known as the HEALS Act, which I have strongly supported.
"In addition to this, " she said, "Leader McConnell is working with the administration and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on a COVID-19 targeted relief proposal that not only includes shared bipartisan priorities, but also one that the president will sign into law, which is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to delivering this relief to Americans."
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