WASHINGTON – A bipartisan push in the U.S. Senate for a COVID-19 relief package faces unclear prospects in the waning days of the current Congress, but several Minnesota lawmakers still hope for a last-minute breakthrough.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said of a $908 billion proposal outlined Tuesday by moderate U.S. senators from both parties.
Klobuchar said she would “not come home until we get something done,” echoing colleagues who want Congress to act before the House and Senate break for Christmas.
“Compromise is the name of the game,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a newly re-elected Democrat who worked with bipartisan colleagues in the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus and moderate senators over the Thanksgiving weekend to arrive at a plan they hope lawmakers from both parties can sign onto.
Supporters say the package includes concessions from Democrats and Republicans that will be necessary if any bill is to pass both the House and Senate and be signed into law by President Donald Trump by Dec. 31.
The package includes emergency measures that extend until April 1 of the upcoming year. It continues some programs set to expire at year’s end, including weekly federal supplements to state unemployment checks collected by people who have lost jobs.
The new $300 per week supplement is half of the $600 subsidy included in the original COVID relief bill passed seven months ago. There is $288 billion targeted for another round of the Paycheck Protection Program that includes forgivable federal loans that businesses use to keep operating.
The package does not include individual stimulus checks. It offers worker protections balanced against a provision that protects businesses from COVID-related lawsuits, Phillips said.
Democratic Sen. Tina Smith said she was still considering the bipartisan package.
“I’ve never worked any place where I have heard more people talk loudly about the need for action without action actually happening,” Smith said, adding that “I appreciate that they are working together to get something done. ... The urgency to act is clear.”
Klobuchar said she’d look to make sure that businesses in Minnesota are protected given the unique nature of the climate in which they operate. “Not one size fits all,” she said.
It’s not yet clear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will permit a vote on the measure. “There are 20-25 senators on the Republican side who will not vote for it,” Klobuchar said.
Those pushing for the package say its success likely depends on a public outcry that pressures reluctant members of Congress to act.
“The prospects of success are contingent on the House, Senate and White House,” Phillips said, “but also on Americans reaching out to their leaders. Time is short. Need is great. I’m keeping the faith.”