A bipartisan group of nine Senators and seven members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a bicameral framework on Dec. 1 for a year-end COVID-19 relief package.
The $908 billion framework includes $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance; $160 billion for state, local, and tribal governments; $16 billion for vaccine development and distributions, testing, and tracing; $5 billion for opioid treatment; $82 billion for education; $4 billion for student loans; and short-term federal protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits. Though additional details on the proposal were not available as of this writing, a press release issued by one of the framework’s authors, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) stated that of the $908 billion proposed, “approximately $560 billion in repurposed funds from the CARES Act, with about $348 billion in new spending.”
After its release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed support for the bipartisan framework as a starting point. “In the spirit of compromise, we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” they said in a Dec. 2 statement.
President-elect Joe Biden also indicated his support for Congress to approve a COVID-19 measure by the end of the year as a “down payment” to future relief packages.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) separately began circulating his own proposal on Dec. 1 among Senate Republicans. Though text has not been released, previous iterations of a $500 billion proposal that Leader McConnell brought to the Senate floor included liability protections for employers, extended unemployment insurance, and funds for small businesses, schools, testing, and vaccine distribution [see Washington Highlights, Oct. 23].
McConnell also stated that a year-end omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2021 spending bills would likely serve as the vehicle for additional COVID-19 relief. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated that a deal on the omnibus needs to be reached before Dec. 6 to allow for preparation of bill text and votes in advance of the Dec. 11 expiration of the current continuing resolution (CR) [see Washington Highlights, Oct. 2].
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) indicated that two or three issues remain unresolved to finalize the omnibus, adding that while Rep. Hoyer’s timeline is a “worthy goal,” a short-term CR is likely.
The AAMC submitted recommendations on Nov. 18 to congressional leaders to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, upcoming expiration of key health extenders, and unfinished FY 2021 spending bills in year-end legislation [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 20].