Joe Biden
Biden: 'More people may die' without a smooth transition
01:18 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

As coronavirus cases spike around the country, hospitalizations reach new records and President Donald Trump continues to refuse to concede the election, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are less and less confident that any stimulus deal can be reached in the lame duck with focus turning instead to a government spending negotiation that must be finished by December 11.

“I am kind of discouraged frankly right now. I was encouraged when I saw … Vice President Biden tell Schumer and Pelosi he would like to see a package done. So far there doesn’t seem to be any interest on the Democratic side,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said Tuesday. “Just as important as what the topline is what the content is, so that is why it is hard to say what the appropriate topline number is, but it does need to be focused and there is still a lot of people hurting and a lot of questions about logistics of the vaccine, which we are going to need continued support from Congress.”

Aides on both sides say that serious conversations have ceased over the stimulus even as the US cases of coronavirus have soared past 11 million and as questions remain about whether there is adequate funding to distribute a vaccine. While the Department of Health and Human Services has said that there will be adequate money to ensure Americans have access to a vaccine once one is approved, aides on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill have pointed to the fact that the focus of the CARES Act funding for vaccines in the spring was development, not distribution. Money remaining is a fraction of the $5 billion to $6 billion US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said earlier this fall was needed for distribution.

“The men and women throughout our country – they’re suffering because of Covid and we’re not doing a damn thing to help them,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat said, getting visibly angry. “That’s wrong.”

The divide between Republicans and Democrats continues to be over how much money each side is willing to spend. Democrats – including President-elect Joe Biden – have urged Senate Republicans to pass House Democrats’ Heroes Act, which totals more than $2 trillion.

“Congress should come together and pass a Covid relief package like the Heroes Act,” Biden said Monday during public remarks.

Republicans, meanwhile, have made it clear they aren’t willing to spend much north of $1 trillion. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Tuesday that he had no private meetings with Democratic leaders over Covid relief saying that he was “open to a targeted bill” along the lines of half a trillion dollars, but that he had seen “no evidence” that Democrats were open to that.

“I think right now the Democrats would have to come a long ways back to reality to us to get a bill,” Sen. Dick Shelby, an Alabama Republican and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Tuesday.

Shelby confirmed that he had talked to Pelosi last week about the stimulus, but maintained that major differences remain. He also said they discussed the upcoming spending deadline.

For months, negotiations over the stimulus centered around two people: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The President was urging them to get a deal and one that was even larger than what Senate Republicans had been pushing for months. Yet, in the wake of Trump’s defeat, aides on Capitol Hill say the White House has disengaged in those talks with little expectation that Trump will try and cement his legacy with another stimulus proposal before he leaves office.

This comes as the end of December could mark the end of unemployment programs that were created under the CARES Act. That law, which passed in the spring, extended the amount of time that Americans who were out of work could receive state unemployment benefits by 13 weeks. Another program expanded unemployment benefits to include gig workers, who wouldn’t typically be covered. But both of those programs are set to expire at the end of December, which could affect more than 13 million Americans.

“President-Elect Biden has urged the Senate to pass a comprehensive bill that actually meets the needs of the American people. He pointed to the Heroes Act, and that’s the right focus. We need a comprehensive bill that meets the needs of the American people,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said. “But, of course, we will want to sit down and negotiate with our Republican colleagues. The Republican leader should come to the table and negotiate with Democrats on a bipartisan Covid relief bill with a bipartisan process that addresses all of the challenges we now face.”

Pelosi and Schumer sent a letter to McConnell later Tuesday urging him to negotiate a deal “this week” on a funding relief bill, saying “for the sake of the country, we ask that you come to the table and work with us to produce an agreement that meet Americans needs in the critical time.”

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic aides tell CNN that negotiations over the spending bill is going more smoothly with both sides setting a goal to agree on topline numbers by the end of the week.

“Our staffs are engaged,” Shelby said. “We are making progress. We got a few bumps. You can imagine what they are.”