Sen. Mitt Romney is part of a bipartisan group in Congress working to pass a pair of coronavirus relief bills that would offer more than $900 billion in aid, but not direct payments to taxpayers.
The two-part proposal, released in detail on Monday, is moving fast as Congress is racing toward the end of the year.
One bill provides $748 billion in relief, including $300 per week in extended unemployment benefits, $300 billion for small businesses, and $16 billion for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution. It also provides rental assistance and extends the moratorium on evictions until Jan. 31.
“You’ll remember in the financial crisis of 2007, Congress passed a $700 billion rescue package,” Romney said. “This proposal includes $748 billion, which is a very substantial number.”
The second, more controversial bill contains $160 billion in aid for state and local governments, but also provides some liability protection for businesses if their employees or customers are exposed to COVID-19. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed hard for the liability protections, calling that legislation a “red line” for him when passing any further economic relief. But, McConnell has reportedly talked about backing off that part of the proposal.
It is believed splitting the two bills will make it easier for Congress to pass some sort of relief before Congress leaves for the holiday break. Romney certainly believes that Congress should act on the larger of the two relief packages before they adjourn.
“Our goal and expectation is the $748 billion bill, or something that includes many of its elements, is passed before Christmas. We should vote on that this week,” said Romney. “But that’s going to depend on what Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi decide to do.”
Romney said the second, smaller package including aid for local governments can wait for a few weeks, as the priority is getting urgently needed help for families and small businesses.
Some Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, are critical of the two packages, saying they should include another round of direct stimulus to American taxpayers, which the current proposal does not provide for.
“That could add another three to four hundred billion dollars to the debt,” Romney said. “There are many Republicans who feel the debt our country is carrying is already too much. I’m sure everybody would like a check, but sending checks to people who are currently working was not, in our view, as high a priority as sending checks to people who are unemployed, who can’t make their rent and the businesses that are about to shut down.”
It’s not known whether the proposal will make it to the floor for consideration, or if parts will be included in the must-pass government spending bill that Congress is currently negotiating.
“We have put together a bill which both sides agree on, and in order for something to pass, it requires both sides to agree. It’s very possible a small group of Republicans or a small group of Democrats want something different,” Romney said. “The question is whether we are going to decide to do nothing unless it’s done the way we want.”