By Emily Cochrane
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers crept toward a possible consensus on Monday on a stimulus deal to address the toll of the pandemic, as a bipartisan group of centrist members of Congress pared back their compromise plan to omit the most contentious sticking points.
The moderate lawmakers proposed a $748 billion package to fund an array of programs that have generated agreement in the stimulus talks — including the revival of federal unemployment payments and a popular small-business loan program — as well as money for vaccine distribution, rental assistance and food aid, and resources for schools and other institutions struggling to stay afloat because of the pandemic.
Notably absent were the two most hotly contested items in the negotiations — $160 billion to bolster state and local governments, and limits on workers’ ability to sue companies that opened during the pandemic — which the group included in a separate bill.
The group’s bifurcated plan amounted to an effort to generate a deal before the holidays that all sides could embrace after months of stalled negotiations. But it also underscored how, with divisions remaining on liability protections for businesses, nonprofits, schools and hospitals and on an allocation of billions of dollars to state and local governments, lawmakers may ultimately jettison both ideas.
Democrats have been resistant to a liability shield, which they say could harm worker protections, and Republicans have been staunchly opposed to what many of them have derided as a “blue-state bailout” for state and local governments facing fiscal crises.
There is no guarantee that leaders in either party will embrace the proposals, with many Democrats still pressing for a more generous package that includes direct payments to struggling Americans, and with many Republicans continuing to oppose another costly round of federal aid.
“We haven’t seen anybody else step forward,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who urged leadership to use the bills in their final days of talks. “We’ve got your gift. Take it.”