McConnell and GOP Intransigence: Democratic senator says it is 'absolutely unconscionable for Congress to adjourn' for 2020 without a new stimulus deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. (Bill O'Leary/Pool via AP)

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By Ben Werschkul

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan relief proposal that generated some initial excitement around the notion that perhaps the months-long wait for compromise on coronavirus stimulus was coming to an end.

But so far Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been sticking to his plans -–and apparent topline numbers – he’s been offering for months.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) told Yahoo Finance the developments are “very disappointing to say the least.”

“I think it would be absolutely unconscionable for the Congress to adjourn in December without getting an additional emergency COVID-19 response bill,” he said.

Republican leadership has consistently pushed a bill that would cost around $500 billion, while Democrats have pushed for a measure closer to $2 trillion.

The Democratic side appeared to move closer to compromise on Wednesday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that “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.”

McConnell has apparently not endorsed the plan and appears to be sticking to the targeted framework he circulated among Republicans on Tuesday.

The White House signaled its support for McConnell’s position. “The president will sign the McConnell proposal that he put forward yesterday,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Wednesday.

And beyond the top numbers, deep divisions remain on certain provisions within the respective proposals. One example is liability reform which McConnell has called crucial, while Democrats, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) have called a “poison pill.”

Another provision that remains deeply partisan is aid for states and localities.

Also on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) expressed optimism that House and Senate leaders were working toward a deal on a pandemic relief that could come together by this weekend, although it remained unclear how each side would overcome their deep-seated differences between now and then.

‘It was a move in the right direction’

The seemingly short-lived $908 billion bipartisan proposal was an attempt to find a middle ground in the numbers. Van Hollen was not part of the bipartisan group that unveiled the bill, but he said he largely supported it.

“It was a move in the right direction,” he said.

The prospects now for a stimulus deal as 2020 winds to a close remain an uphill battle. The one deadline that lawmakers must address before adjourning for the holiday is end-of-year spending bills – due by Dec. 11 – to avert a government shutdown.

There is a chance that certain measures, like an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program or some additional unemployment coverage, could be included as part of those measures.

Pressed on whether he would support certain elements being included without a larger deal, Van Hollen remained firm, saying “what I would support is what's reflected in this bipartisan compromise.” He charged McConnell with offering a proposal without enough in it to support struggling Americans, and trying “to leverage a pandemic” to get what he called special interest provisions into his bill.

The bipartisan bill was “exactly what the American people had been looking for,” Van Hollen said. “It is just unfortunate that within hours Sen. McConnell launched a grenade attack on it.”

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.