In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a notable shift in their position on coronavirus relief legislation negotiations. Citing economists fears of a possible “double-dip recession” without additional economic relief from Congress, the Democratic leaders announced their support for using the bipartisan, bicameral compromise framework introduced yesterday (see chart below for details) as the basis for negotiations moving forward ahead of the looming December 11 government funding deadline. This marks a fairly significant change for Democrats still grappling with the mixed results of last month’s election.
For months, Pelosi and Schumer remained united in their stance that a pandemic relief and economic stimulus package should be comprehensive, include funding for state and local governments, and cost around $2 trillion. The bipartisan effort, which notably does not yet include legislative text, being championed by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and a bipartisan group of House Problem Solvers Caucus members, comes with a roughly $908 billion price tag. This is much closer to the roughly $500 billion proposal Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been pushing for weeks to no avail and possibly a sign a real progress.
It is important to note that even if widespread consensus quickly develops around the bipartisan Problem Solver Caucus proposal – which itself is not likely – the agreement is only on a very general framework of topline funding and light on specifics. There remain many details, most pressingly a plan for vaccine distribution, to be ironed out by Congressional leadership and the White House, but if a relief bill is to be passed, whether on its own or as part of an omnibus bill, it seems likely that more time will be needed. While House Democrats have been angling to pass a government spending bill, address the surging pandemic, and conclude legislative business by the end of next week before adjourning for the year, that seems unlikely.
Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) said on Wednesday that a brief Continuing Resolution (CR) stopgap funding measure may be necessary to give Congress more time to pass an omnibus bill before the holidays. With the growing consensus that Congress must address the pandemic before adjourning, and a must pass omnibus package serving as the most feasible vehicle for passage through a divided, lame duck government, it seems increasingly likely that a CR will be needed to buy negotiators the time needed to reach agreement on the details of how Congress plans to address the continued public health and economic crises.