McConnell says U.S. Congress still needs path forward on COVID-19 relief
By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.
COVID-19 relief" src="https://images.firstpost.com/wp-content/uploads/reuters/12-2020/10/2020-12-09T111329Z_1_LYNXMPEGB80PV_RTROPTP_2_HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA-CONGRESS.jpg" alt="McConnell says US Congress still needs path forward on COVID19 relief" width="300" height="225" />
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that lawmakers were still looking for a path toward agreement on COVID-19 aid, as the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on a one-week funding bill to provide more time for a deal.
"We're still looking for a way forward," McConnell told reporters before taking to the Senate floor to blast House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for not accepting two Republican offers this week.
McConnell on Tuesday proposed breaking a deadlock in coronavirus talks by dropping what he said were the most contentious items: liability protections for businesses desired by Republicans, and more aid to state and local governments wanted by Democrats.
Later in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he had presented a $916 billion relief proposal to Pelosi that includes money for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses.
But Pelosi and Schumer, who view negotiations among a bipartisan group of lawmakers on a $908 billion package as the best hope for COVID-19 relief, rejected McConnell's offer and warned that the Republican Trump administration's $916 billion proposal "must not be allowed to obstruct" the bipartisan talks.
"At every turn, they have delayed, deflected, moved the goalposts, and made the huge number of places where Congress agrees into a hostage of the few places where we do not agree," McConnell said on the Senate floor.
"Our people need more help," he added. "This need not be rocket science."
With agreement elusive, the House was poised to vote on Wednesday afternoon on a measure to prevent existing funds for operating federal programs from running out on Friday at midnight (0500 GMT on Saturday) by extending current funding levels until Dec. 18.
The move gives Congress seven more days to enact a broader, $1.4 trillion "omnibus" spending measure, to which congressional leaders hope to attach the long-awaited COVID-19 relief package - if they can reach a deal on both fronts.
A House Democratic aide with knowledge of vote preparations expected the measure to pass easily on Wednesday and reported "steady progress" in omnibus talks.
After the vote in the Democratic-run House, the Republican-led Senate is expected to follow by the end of the week, then send the measure to President Donald Trump to sign into law.
Members of Congress have not been able to agree for months on another round of aid to mitigate the effects of shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus, after quickly approving $3 trillion last spring.
The pandemic has since roared back to levels surpassing those seen early in the crisis, with more than 200,000 new infections reported each day and fresh shutdowns in some areas. More than 286,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, and millions have been thrown out of work.
In recent days, there has also been talk among lawmakers of adding another round of direct checks to individuals, which both Pelosi and Schumer support. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters he thought Mnuchin's COVID-19 aid proposal had a provision for $600 checks. The previous relief package included relief payments of up to $1,200 per adult.
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has called on Congress to act immediately, noting that efforts to ensure early vaccination for COVID-19 by the outgoing Trump administration may stall otherwise.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)
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