WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Friday he cannot support a bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal revealed this week “unless it is significantly improved.”
The $908 billion proposal is intended as a temporary relief package and was proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as an effort to get congressional leaders from both parties to negotiate a deal on legislation.
“Given the enormous economic desperation facing working families in this country today, I will not be able to support the recently announced Manchin-Romney COVID proposal unless it is significantly improved,” Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats and is a prominent progressive lawmaker, said in a statement.
Many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed optimism and support for the emerging deal. Moderate Senators admitted the proposal outlined would upset partisans on both sides, but is a necessary compromise as the country faces rising COVID-19 case counts and economic pain.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who also caucuses with Democrats, said the “whole idea” of the proposal was something that would “work for a substantial majority of both houses,” even if it’s “not entirely satisfactory to everybody.”
Sanders objected to giving “legal immunity to corporations”, as well as the exclusion of another round of $1,200 checks for Americans, which was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March. He called this departure “not acceptable”.
“At a time when the COVID crisis is the worst that it has ever been in the U.S. with record-breaking levels of hospitalization and death, the Manchin-Romney proposal not only provides no direct payments to working families, it does nothing to address the health care crisis and has totally inadequate financial assistance for the most vulnerable,” Sanders said. “That is wrong morally and it is wrong economically if we hope to rebuild the economy.”
President-elect Joe Biden has encouraged the bipartisan talks, and suggested Friday that he favors the direct payments, saying, “I think it would be better if they had the $1,200” and that he believes that “may be still in play.”
Sanders’ statement indicates some possible progressive opposition, and any successful legislation will need support from Republicans and Democrats.
The bill has concerned others on the opposite side of the political spectrum, with some calling it too expensive.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., broke with many of his Republican colleagues, saying he won’t support a bill unless it includes a new round of the $1,200 checks.
“I’m not sure why it’s controversial,” Hawley said. “I’m a little baffled by it.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have stated they supported using the $908 billion proposal as the basis for negotiations and talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Lawmakers face a tight schedule if leadership is to include COVID-19 relief with the spending bill, which is needed to avoid a federal government shutdown after December 11. Pelosi told reporters on Friday that “there is momentum” toward making a deal.
Congress has not passed a comprehensive relief package since March, and as case totals climbed and benefits lapsed, Democrats and Republicans were unable to come together on another deal. The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate offered their own versions of legislation and negotiations continued between the White House and Democratic leaders, all to no avail.
Millions of Americans face the possibility of several more aid programs expiring after Christmas if Congress does not act.
The proposal includes funding for state, local and tribal governments, a federal boost in unemployment insurance, small-business support programs, funding for the U.S. Postal Service, among other things.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to significantly improve this bill,” Sanders said. “But, in its current form, I cannot support it.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Christal Hayes