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Politics & Government

Republicans, Democrats Still At Odds Over Coronavirus Relief

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. economic outlook is grim. It's the word President-elect Biden used to describe yesterday's job report. And it's not clear Republicans and Democrats can reach an agreement on a new economic stimulus by year's end. This week's job report sent up warning flares. And it may be that, finally, momentum is growing in Congress. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been watching negotiations and joins us this morning. Claudia, thanks so much for being with us.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: Congress has been deadlocked for months on this. Did something change?

GRISALES: Yes. We saw a major breakthrough with both parties, starting with a group of bipartisan lawmakers who put together a $908 billion proposal, one that's in range of what Republicans have been previously endorsing. And Democrats who weren't willing to bend below a $2 trillion mark for a plan just a few weeks ago have reconsidered. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters yesterday that circumstances have changed with the election as they now have Joe Biden headed to the White House in January. And with that, they can get additional waves of aid next year. Let's take a listen.

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NANCY PELOSI: With a Democratic president committed to a scientific solution for this with the idea that we will have a vaccine, it's a complete game-changer.

GRISALES: So after months of Pelosi saying she wouldn't budge below this $2 trillion mark with a President Trump in place, she now says she thinks a deal can be had before year's end. But we should note, this package is just a starting point and could shift with the talks.

SIMON: What's in the package they're discussing?

GRISALES: It would direct about $300 billion to small businesses, including this popular Paycheck Protection Program. It would extend additional aid for unemployment benefits and direct another 160 billion to state and local governments. And there's also money for vaccine development, housing assistance, student loans and one key provision for Republicans. That's a liability shield for businesses struggling during the pandemic. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have said that this should be the basis for talks. And McConnell met with lead members of his party pushing the plan. And he's looking at pulling elements from it for an ultimate deal.

But as they say, the devil is in the details. And this weekend, Congressional staff is putting together the actual text for this bipartisan plan. And that includes language for the business legal protections. And that's a key part of negotiations that could dictate whether an ultimate agreement is reached.

SIMON: Did President-elect Biden play a role?

GRISALES: It appears Biden has worked behind the scenes here but publicly has said any package passed in the lame-duck session is not going to be enough overall. It's critical, but it's just a start. He spoke about this in Delaware yesterday. Let's take a listen.

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JOE BIDEN: I've made it real clear. It's just a down payment. This is not the end of the deal.

GRISALES: So he has talked about the $900 billion bipartisan proposal, but he's also kept his distance to some extent publicly. Remember; Congress has been stalled since the spring. Republicans and Democrats have been very far apart in the amounts they're asking for. And he was asked directly if he's talked to McConnell, and he evaded the question. He also said, as he has been saying, that even if Congress passes this bill, he'll be back to ask for more in January because coronavirus won't be over by then.

SIMON: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, thanks so much for being with us.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.