Senator says Trump, McConnell likely to back COVID-19 relief

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, on a probe of the FBI's Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

WASHINGTON – A proposed COVID-19 relief bill is expected to get backing from President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but it won't include $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, a Republican senator involved in the bipartisan talks says.

“President Trump has indicated that he would sign a $908 billion package — there’s only one $908 billion package out there and it’s ours,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said Sunday. “The pain of the American people is driving this, and I’m optimistic that both those leaders will come on board.”

With time running out, lawmakers from both parties were closing in on the final language that would provide roughly $300 in extra federal weekly unemployment benefits, leaving the issue of cash payments for President-elect Joe Biden to wrestle over with a new Congress next year.

The package to be released Monday would be attached to a larger year-end spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown this coming weekend.

The direct payments were popular when they were first distributed after the pandemic hit, and Biden on Friday had expressed hope that a second wave might come after weekend negotiations.

But senators involved in the talks said the checks won’t be included as part of the compromise, even as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and others said that could cause them to oppose the measure.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, indicated that excluding the checks while assuring small-business aid and renters’ assistance was the only way to reach agreement with Republicans who are putting firm limits on the bill’s final price tag.

“The $1,200 check, it cost we believe nationally $300 billion, to give you an idea,” he said. “The Democrats have always wanted a larger number, but we were told we couldn’t get anything through the Republicans, except this $900 billion level.”