The odds of a stimulus package before January hit rock bottom with Congress deadlocked on coronavirus relief priorities

  • Odds of a stimulus package before January appear very dim.
  • Republicans and Democrats are not budging from their past spending demands.
  • Pelosi and Schumer say the $2.4 trillion stimulus plan is their starting point while the GOP argues for a slimmer $500 billion measure.
  • The White House is sitting out the latest round of negotiations on Capitol Hill.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The prospects for another coronavirus relief package before the end of the year diminished rapidly on Thursday, as Republicans and Democrats signaled they did not intend to budge from their long-held positions on spending levels.

Both the Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said they are still calling for a $2.4 trillion stimulus package, arguing the surge of infections strengthens the case for a robust federal response.

"We're at the same place," Pelosi at a joint news conference with Schumer. "Even more so with the pandemic because look at these numbers. Look at these numbers. Look at the predictions of the scientific community."

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said less than an hour later he does not believe the US economy needs that level of support. Instead, Republicans are pushing for a $500 billion relief proposal, an amount only a fifth of the size that Democrats want.

"The level at which the economy is improving further underscores that we need to do something at about the amount that we put on the floor in September and October," he said. The Kentucky Republican added Democrats "are looking at something dramatically larger. That's not a place I think we're willing to go."

The remarks from party leaders underscore the major gaps between them on the scope and contents of a government rescue package. It's unclear how Democrats and Republicans will overcome their divisions and approve a relief plan before the end of the year as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations reach new highs.

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President-elect Joe Biden urged Congress on Tuesday to approve an economic aid package. "One of the urgent things that need to be done is people need relief right now — right now: small businesses, people who are about to be evicted from their homes because they can't pay their mortgage, unemployment insurance," he said.

Schumer and Pelosi released a statement on Thursday saying the pair had spoken with Biden about the need for another federal assistance package, and they shared the same goals.

The White House sits out of stimulus negotiations, leaving it up to McConnell and Pelosi

House Democrats passed an economic aid bill in early October. It included another round of $1,200 direct payments, $600 federal unemployment benefits, aid for state and local governments, as well as health and education funding.

Monthslong negotiations between the Trump administration and Democrats on a stimulus plan collapsed before the presidential election. President Donald Trump supported a large stimulus package but he hasn't publicly commented on it since Biden defeated him in the election. 

McConnell is expected to take a bigger role in the talks after taking a backseat most of the summer — while the White House sits out. Republicans are pressing a slimmer aid plan which Democrats blocked twice already. It included $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits and small business aid, but left out stimulus checks and aid to states.

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Many economists and Federal Reserve officials are prodding Congress to approve another stimulus package. Last Friday's jobs report marked the fourth month in a row of slowing job gains, and 21 million Americans are still claiming some form of unemployment benefits as the jobless rate stays elevated at 6.9%. Those benefits are set to expire for millions of people in December without an extension from Congress.

Republicans and Democrats are also focused on passing a dozen spending bills to fund most government agencies. Lawmakers must approve them by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the fourth highest-ranking Republican, said he could support including certain pandemic aid provisions in those spending bills. He singled out vaccine research and development.

"I think we'd be willing to include whatever we need to finish up funding the vaccine and distributing the vaccine," Blunt told Business Insider in a brief interview on Capitol Hill.

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