Upton on COVID-19 relief compromise: ‘We can’t wait’

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Members of a bipartisan group in Congress are pushing fellow lawmakers to pass the COVID-19 relief package they have put forth before the federal CARES Act is set to expire at the end of the month.

“The message to our leadership was: We’re not going home until this gets done,” U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, a member of the group behind the bill, told News 8 Thursday. “Because if we don’t get it done in this Congress, it won’t be till March till we actually get a bill. We can’t wait. We have hospitals … all around the state, all around the country, that are 100% full. We’ve got food lines that are thousands of people long. We have the unemployment benefits, of course, expiring.”

The $908 billion COVID Emergency Relief Framework would include cash for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance, state and local governments, transportation and vaccine distribution, among other things. It would not include stimulus checks for Americans.

“$908 billion — not a perfect bill, that’s for sure — seems to be the sweet spot to get something done,” Upton said.

The compromise was the brainchild of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House and a group of nine cooperating senators.

“It is time to act. We’re overdue to act,” Upton said. “And a good number of us have sent the message: ‘We’re not going home, so get the job done.'”

The Problem Solvers Caucus hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill that streamed live on Facebook Thursday afternoon to tout the proposal.

“For everyone who has platitudes about what the country is going through, you should be asking them specifically what have they done today to actually move us forward,” U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, said at the press conference. “If they’re just offering platitudes and they haven’t come joined us and signed up and endorsed the proposal and said they’re going to stay here until we get this done, whatever it does to their Christmas break, then they are talking empty words.”

The package would act as a stopgap measure, continuing services through the first quarter of 2021 after the CARES Act expires at the end of 2020.

“This is money for testing, money for small business, money for health care workers, money for the airlines,” Upton listed. “Money for our transit systems. People that do have a job, they’re not going to be able to go to work in a couple weeks because these transit systems in our big cities, they don’t have the revenue. So this is a huge Band-Aid… This is a package that we think, if we get it to the floor, House and Senate, it can pass and the president, we think, would sign it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday said they would use the bill as a framework for negotiations with Republicans. Pelosi had previously been unwilling to agree to less than the $2.2 trillion proposal the Democrat-controlled House has approved, even though the Republican-controlled Senate had refused to spend so much.

Democratic leadership’s support put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to get on board. On the Senate floor Thursday morning, McConnell said a deal was “within reach.” President Donald Trump has also signaled he’s on board.

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