With just over two weeks before Congress breaks for the holidays, Tennessee U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Thursday that senators are continuing to work to negotiate another round of COVID-19 relief.
“I will simply say we are continuing to work on it,” Blackburn said. “You've got that money that is leftover from the CARES Act. There is no reason, no reason not to take these points of agreement – plussing up unemployment insurance, doing a second round of [Paycheck Protection Program] for businesses that are still distressed. There's no reason not to get that money out.”
Several versions of relief plans are circulating on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group unveiled a new $908 billion COVID-19 relief bill Tuesday that is gaining support on both sides of the aisle, including from South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Iowa U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the Washington Post reports.
Democrats in both chambers remain divided over whether to hold out for a $3 trillion stimulus proposal. Meanwhile, Blackburn said the Republican Conference already had agreed on a $600 billion bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said he is working on a separate $500 billion bill to provide relief to small businesses, funding for schools, vaccine distribution and medical supplies.
Blackburn outlined her priorities for the next relief bill Thursday: another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, additional $300 weekly unemployment insurance payments, funding for vaccines and rapid testing and federal liability protections for schools and businesses.
“We are hearing from Tennessee employers and schools and different entities that they would like to have this federal liability protection so that they can open their doors, get people back to work, children back to school,” Blackburn said. “So we are hopeful that the Democrats will come to the table and work with us on this.”
Blackburn also noted money not related to COVID-19 relief should not be included in the relief package.
“What we do not want to do is put money in the bill for things that are completely unrelated to COVID and COVID relief, you know. Why should there be money for the arts? Why should there be money for other programs that are not related to COVID?” Blackburn said. “There shouldn't be money to bail out some of the states and cities that have pension issues.”
A group of 49 attorneys general wrote to Congressional leadership earlier this week, asking for an extension to the Dec. 30 deadline for states to spend funds allocated to them under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“This time frame likely made sense in late March, when the CARES Act was passed, but we have learned a great deal about COVID-19 in the past seven months,” the group wrote. “Among other things, we know that the pandemic will continue to challenge communities well beyond December 30, 2020 – a deadline that now seems unreasonable.”
Congress is set to adjourn for the holidays Dec. 18.
“We continue to work with Leader McConnell and work in good faith, and are hopeful that we will see people return to the table,” Blackburn said.
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