Bipartisan group of senators releases $908bn Covid relief bill proposal

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Senator Joe Manchin (R) hands a poster describing a proposal for a Covid relief bill to Senator Mark Warner (L), alongside a bipartisan group of members of Congress

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A bipartisan group of senators has unveiled a compromise $908bn Covid relief bill.

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

As the coronavirus 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.

Some $560bn of the total funding would be repurposed from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in March. The actual new money is $348bn.

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

It is, however, a framework with which the leaders may be able to work, and lawmakers hope it could break the stalemate.

At the launch of the bipartisan bill, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah 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 — a priority for Democrats, $180bn for additional unemployment insurance, and $288bn to support small businesses and restaurants. A further $82bn would be for education under the bill, $45 billion 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.

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” to leave for the year without ensuring Americans had more relief funding to cope with the pandemic.

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

According to Johns Hopkins, 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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