Before the meeting on Tuesday, Mr. McConnell pointed to the bifurcated plan as he continued to push for lawmakers to jettison the two items and approve a narrow package with money for vaccine distribution, unemployment funds and help for schools and small businesses. After months of insisting that a sweeping liability shield was a “red line” for another package, Mr. McConnell said again that he was willing to drop the demand if Democrats would agree to abandon their top priority, as well.
“We all know the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package,” Mr. McConnell said at a weekly news conference. “It’s not like we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and of state and local government in the very near future.”
Even if the four leaders were to reach an agreement, it would most likely face hurdles among some rank-and-file lawmakers, as Republicans chafe at the prospect of spending billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and Democrats argue that an agreement amounting to less than $1 trillion would be insufficient.
Some lawmakers are also mounting a pressure campaign to include direct payments for all working Americans in the stimulus deal. Two senators, Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, and Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, have threatened to hold up the broader government funding bill if Congress failed to ensure that Americans receive payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child in the stimulus measure.
In a letter sent to the leaders, liberal lawmakers, led by Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Ro Khanna and Katie Porter, both of California, argued that such payments “are a crucial part of any Covid relief package.” They pressed for at least $2,000 in direct payments and at least six months of unemployment benefits, including enhanced supplemental benefits that expired earlier this year.
“We’ve had this issue of direct payments on the table for months now, and we’re willing to look at different amounts,” Ms. Jayapal said. “There is absolutely no reason why we can’t put the direct payments in, and dare the Senate to take them out.”
The White House has voiced support for another round of direct payments, and Mr. Mnuchin’s included a $600 stimulus check in his latest offer to Ms. Pelosi. But Democrats panned that $916 billion proposal because it failed to revive supplemental unemployment benefits that lapsed over the summer.
“I’m not going to say if that’s a red line or not,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said when pressed on whether President Trump would approve a stimulus package without direct payments. “We’re hopeful there is a deal there that the president can then look at and support.”
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting from Washington, and Ben Casselman from New York.