Centrist lawmakers push $908B plan to break virus impasse

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is putting pressure on congressional leaders to accept a split-the-difference solution to the protracted impasse over COVID-19 relief in a last-gasp effort to ship overdue help to a hurting nation before Congress adjourns for the holidays.

The group includes Senate centrists such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who hope to exert greater influence in a closely divided Congress during the incoming Biden administration.

In Wilmington, Delaware, President-elect Joe Biden called on lawmakers to approve a down payment on COVID relief, though he cautioned that “any package passed in lame-duck session is — at best — just a start.”

The proposal hit the scales at $908 billion, including $228 billion to extend and upgrade “paycheck protection” subsidies for businesses for a second round of relief to hard-hit businesses like restaurants.

It would revive a special jobless benefit, but at a reduced level of $300 per week rather than the $600 benefit enacted in March. State and local governments would receive $160 billion, and there is also money for vaccines.

Earlier, larger versions of the proposal — a framework with only limited detail — were rejected by top leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But pressure is building as lawmakers face the prospect of heading home for Christmas and New Year’s without delivering aid to people in need.

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