WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiations on spending and economic relief picked up speed on Tuesday as top lawmakers met for an hour in the afternoon and then planned to reconvene in the evening, a sign that negotiations are reaching a critical stage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hosted the three other most senior congressional leaders – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. – in her office.

“We’re not leaving here without a COVID package. It’s not going to happen,” McConnell said at his news conference Tuesday before the first gathering. “We’re going to stay here, no matter how long it takes.”

The first meeting adjourned about 5 p.m. Eastern time, and the second meeting was set to begin at 7:30 p.m. Lawmakers face a Friday night deadline to pass legislation before a government shutdown, and they are trying to assemble an economic relief package to provide jobless aid and small-business assistance.

The meetings represent the first time in months leaders have met in person to hash out a broad bipartisan deal that could include hundreds of billions in spending in coronavirus relief. Talks remained fluid, and it is unclear whether a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks would be included in the final agreement. Similarly, lawmakers continued to wrangle over whether to include aid for state and local governments in a stimulus deal.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also spoke for more than an hour about the spending legislation and a potential pandemic-relief package at about noon Tuesday, according to Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, illustrating how the Trump administration is involved in this stage of the negotiations.

Previous efforts to reach a compromise have failed since the spring. President-elect Joe Biden has urged lawmakers to reach a deal during the lame duck session of Congress, and Democrats have signaled in recent weeks that they are more open to a smaller-scale package than they were before the election.

Two main items were on the Tuesday afternoon agenda. First, lawmakers are trying to finalize a $1.3 trillion spending accord that will keep the government open past Friday through September 2021. Second, lawmakers are trying to pin down a coronavirus relief deal that would extend numerous expiring aid programs and provide new funding to accelerate and expand distribution of the new coronavirus vaccines.

The renewed momentum behind a deal comes as senior Democratic lawmakers indicate a greater willingness to compromise and a forceful push by a bipartisan group of lawmakers pass a relief bill before Christmas recess.

Lawmakers also face intense pressure to approve new relief with multiple critical emergency programs set to expire by the end of the year, including jobless benefits for 12 million Americans and rental protections for as many 30 million Americans.

On Monday, a bipartisan group spearheaded by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., released a $748 billion proposal that would devote hundreds of billions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small business relief, as well as tens of billions of dollars for transportation, education, vaccine distribution, and other needs. The group released a second bill consisting of a liability shield offering businesses immunity from lawsuits and about $160 billion in state and local aid – the two provisions that have most sharply divided lawmakers for months.

The bipartisan group’s proposal would extend the expiring unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium for one month. It would not extend a federal paid sick leave benefit currently being used by tens of millions of Americans.

The legislation also excludes another round of $1,200 stimulus checks although that measure is supported by the White House and numerous congressional Democrats. On an internal Republican call on Monday, Romney said the checks would cost $300 billion to include and that the additional borrowing had already made “people on both sides nervous,” according to two people familiar with the exchange.

Romney had pushed the stimulus checks and more money for vaccines in the bipartisan group’s negotiations in exchange for dropping state aid and the liability shield, but was rebuffed, two people familiar with the internal deliberations said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that Trump would support direct payments as part of a package but would not say if they represented a red-line demand for the administration.

“We are hopeful there is a deal there that the president then can look at and support,” she said.

Pelosi and Schumer first backed a $908 billion bill released by the group earlier this month as the starting point for negotiations, although it was significantly smaller than what Democrats had pushed. In recent days, both House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Senate Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. – the second highest-ranking Democrats in the House and Senate – publicly suggested they would approve a relief package even without the state and local funding component Democrats have demanded for months.

Pelosi continued to advocate for state and local aid during a phone call with Mnuchin on Monday, Hammill said. The White House also included $160 billion in state and local aid in its latest relief proposal. But people close to negotiations believe state and local aid appears likely to fall by the wayside as lawmakers move closer to a final agreement. Although several Senate Republicans support providing state and local aid, McConnell has made clear that he would not back legislation that includes only state and local funding and not the liability shield.

Lawmakers have so far proven unable to reach a compromise on the liability shield, with Manchin representing the only Democrat to back sweeping legal protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

On Monday, Durbin backed a $748 billion bipartisan relief package spearheaded by a group of moderate lawmakers that excludes both the state and local aid funding and the liability shield. Hoyer on CNN on Sunday acknowledged Democrats would not “get everything we want” and suggested disbursing emergency aid was more important than holding firm on state and local funding.

“I want to be clear: I’m not giving up on funding for states and localities. This funding is essential in our fight against the pandemic and for our economic recovery,” Durbin said in a statement. “While the fight continues over these issues, we must provide some emergency relief for the American people before we go home for the holidays. I support the $748 billion bipartisan package.”

Lawmakers have little time to act. Trump on Friday signed into law a one-week spending measure that gave lawmakers until this Friday to reach a more comprehensive agreement in order to avoid a government shutdown. If lawmakers have not hammered out all of their issues, they could be forced to seek another short-term spending measure, which could push further negotiations into next week.

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