Bipartisan group of senators conducting informal relief talks

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Both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor on Monday to urge senators to come together to pass a pandemic relief package as sources confirmed to CBS News that a bipartisan group of senators have informally started talks about providing more economic relief to Americans.

"There is no reason — none — why we should not deliver another major pandemic relief package" before the end of the year, McConnell said.

Several key programs enacted amid the pandemic are set to expire at the end of the year, including the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a federal student loan freeze and nationwide eviction moratorium.

"Both sides must give," Schumer said. "We have a Democratic House, and in the Senate, there's a need for Democratic votes to pass any bill. So we need a true bipartisan bill. Not 'this is our bill — take it or leave it.'"

Schumer laid out a more specific timeline than McConnell did, saying legislation should be passed after the January 5 Georgia runoff election and before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20. Democrats are hoping to flip the two Senate seats in Georgia, which would give both parties 50 seats in the Senate. In this case, Democrats would have an edge, since Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. 

Sources confirmed to CBS News there are informal talks going on between aides of Democratic Senators Chris Coons, Joe Manchin, Mark Warner and Michael Bennet and Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman. All are viewed as centrists within their parties. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is also involved in some of the discussions.

The news of the talks was first reported by Politico.

One Senate aide stressed the talks "are a little less formal since they can't meet in person. That really does impact the talks. But I think there is a chance they add some provisions to the fiscal 2021 appropriations or omnibus bill."

The aide said the hope is to pass some of the "noncontroversial" parts of the COVID-19 relief package passed, including giving states another year to spend their CARES Act funding and reauthorizing the PPP and SBA loan forgiveness program for another year until they expend the appropriated funds of more than $130 billion.

Mr. Biden has been pushing both Houses of Congress to pass a COVID-19 relief package before the end of the year as other pandemic-related benefits are set to expire. Mr. Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer earlier in November to discuss his legislative priorities, and the the three "agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame-duck session," a joint readout of the meeting said.

The House passed a $2.2 trillion relief proposal in October, a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion bill passed in May. This proposal included funding to extend the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, as well as extend suspension of payments for student loans, extend credits for paid sick and family leave and provide additional funding for state and local governments.

Pelosi was negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ahead of the election on a relief proposal, but the two were unable to reach an agreement even after Mnuchin nearly matched the size of the House bill with a $2-trillion offer. Pelosi said the main sticking points were over the amount of funding for state and local governments and the inclusion of liability protections, which is one of McConnell's priorities. Although Mr. Trump has called on Congress to pass coronavirus relief, he has also expressed opposition to including funding for state and local jurisdictions, accusing Democrats of wanting to bail out blue states.

Meanwhile, McConnell and Senate Republicans have proposed a $500 billion targeted bill that would mainly focus on extending unemployment benefits, liability protections and bolstering the Paycheck Protection Program, which aids small businesses. It would also provide some funding for schools. Although this legislation has been blocked by Democrats twice, McConnell has said that he will bring it to the Senate floor again.

Alan He, Ed O'Keefe, Caroline Linton and Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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