McConnell says a Covid stimulus compromise is within reach — 'We can do this'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he has seen "hopeful signs" toward Congress striking a coronavirus stimulus deal before the end of the year.

"Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this," the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor.

Whether Democrats, who lead the House and can hold up any bill in the Senate, will accept McConnell's vision of compromise remains to be seen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cut their aid demands Wednesday when they embraced a $908 billion bipartisan proposal as a starting point for talks with McConnell.

Still, the GOP leader rejected the proposal when a bicameral group released it this week. He put forward his own roughly $500 billion plan.

On Thursday, McConnell called for a deal similar to the one he unveiled. It includes Paycheck Protection Program loan funding and money for education and vaccine distribution. Democrats have backed all of those provisions.

However, it includes one piece Democrats find toxic: Covid-19 liability protections for businesses and universities. Pelosi and Schumer have also repeatedly pushed for state and local government aid and supplemental federal unemployment payments, which McConnell's plan does not include.

A coronavirus infection surge and record hospitalizations have led to new economic restrictions and fears of a weakening job market. At the same time, protections for unemployed Americans, renters and federal student loan borrowers put in place earlier this year expire at the end of December.

Congress has run short on time to send more help. Leaders have signaled they could attach relief measures to a government funding bill, which they need to approve by Dec. 11.

Earlier Thursday, the No. 2 Senate Democrat called for a vote on the $908 billion package. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told MSNBC that "we don't want to go home and face the reality of what's going to happen at the end of this month."

"It's inexcusable. We've got to move forward and we want our bill called," he said.

Durbin and President-elect Joe Biden have both described the proposal as an imperfect down payment on stimulus. Congressional leaders have acknowledge they will likely consider more aid next year after Biden takes office.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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