McConnell rebuffs bipartisan Covid proposal while circulating another partisan GOP bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brushed aside a middle-ground Covid proposal from a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday looking to break the legislative stalemate over a new pandemic relief deal, saying lawmakers couldn’t afford to “waste time” on “messaging games.”

The Kentucky Republican then indicated he’s revamping partisan GOP legislation after consulting Trump administration officials about what kind of bill would earn the outgoing president’s signature.

“I think we have a sense of what that is,” Mr McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re going to send that out to all the offices and get some feedback to see how our members react,” the majority leader said.

He added: “We don’t have time for messaging games. We don’t have time for lengthy negotiations.”

Mr McConnell’s revamped “targeted” bill still does not appear to address the concerns of Democrats who have been holding out for a comprehensive Covid package worth more than four times Mr McConnell’s latest offer.

The bipartisan group of senators that includes the likes of Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Chris Coons, and Joe Manchin unveiled a compromise $908bn (£677bn) coronavirus relief bill earlier on Tuesday.

The Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been meeting every day for weeks, including during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, trying to break the impasse between the two parties.

As Covid-19 surges and spreads uncontrolled over much of the country, the Covid Emergency Relief Framework includes provisions to help small businesses, state and local governments, and to pay for unemployment insurance.

There are no funds designated for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals as with the first relief package earlier in the year.

It is believed that this is to keep the total price tag down to appease Republicans lawmakers worried about too great an increase in the level of national debt.

However, $560bn of the total funding would be repurposed from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in March. The actual new money is $348bn (£260bn).

The new bill is unlikely to move forward in its current state, as the dollar amount is far less than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would like, and far more than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would want.

Mr McConnell has said $500bn would be more acceptable, while House Democrats have a figure in excess of $2 trillion in mind.

It is nonetheless a framework within which the leaders may be able to work, and lawmakers hope it could break the months-long stalemate.

At the launch of the bipartisan bill, Mitt Romney said: “I happen to be a deficit hawk. I don’t like borrowing money. I don’t like spending money we don’t have. But the time to borrow money … is when there’s a crisis, and this is a crisis.”

He continued: “We want to help people at this particular time. And so we’ve come together, and we’ve been very careful. This is not a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill. This is a relief measure – half that amount.”

Headline figures reveal $160bn earmarked for state, local, and tribal governments, $180bn for additional unemployment insurance, and $288bn to support small businesses and restaurants. A further $82bn would be for education, $45bn for transportation, and $35bn for the Healthcare Provider Relief Fund.

The bill will also provide short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits so that states have time to develop their own legislation on the matter – something that Republican lawmakers had been pushing for.

If the bill is to move forward it has to move quickly, as lawmakers are scheduled to begin leaving for the year next week.

Democrat senator Joe Manchin said it would be “inexcusable” for politicians to clock off for the year without ensuring Americans had more relief funding to cope with the pandemic.

Mark Warner of Virginia echoed Mr Manchin’s comments, saying it would be “stupidity on steroids” to do so.

According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Tuesday morning, there have been 13.55 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and more than 268,000 officially recorded deaths.

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