Mark Warner: ‘Stupidity on steroids’ not to pass emergency coronavirus relief before Christmas

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Lawmakers behind a $908 billion emergency-relief package fanned out on the Sunday talk shows to whip up support, with Sen. Mark Warner saying that it would be “stupidity on steroids” to delay the issue until after the holidays.

The Virginia Democrat, part of a bipartisan group of about 10 lawmakers, said enthusiasm is growing for the compromise measure, which is less than the $2.2 trillion bill proposed by House Democrats but more than the Senate GOP’s $500 million plan for novel coronavirus relief.

“[W]ith the economy weakening, with 200,000 additional cases of the virus yesterday, and with so many of these initiatives from the first CARES package running out as soon as the day after Christmas, it would be what I called stupidity on steroids if Congress doesn’t act,” Mr. Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He said he was optimistic about the package’s passage, saying, “I think we will get there.”

“I think we may have to go through a few more days of drama,” Mr. Warner said. “We are going to keep our head down, working on getting the product out, let the American people weigh in, let all of our colleagues weigh in. And I think it will be a great bridge to the Biden administration.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, said that final language would likely be unveiled early this week, and that he was hopeful President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would ultimately get behind the measure.

“President Trump has indicated that he would sign a $908 billion package. There was only $908 billion package out there, and that’s ours,” Mr. Cassidy said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that “I’m optimistic that both these leaders will come on board.”

Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have characterized the measure as a starting point, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, said Friday he would oppose it, citing the liability protection for companies.

“This proposal provides 100% legal immunity to corporations whose irresponsibility have led to the deaths of hundreds of workers,” said Mr. Sanders in a statement.

Asked if the liability protection was non-negotiable, Mr. Cassidy replied, “Define non-negotiable.”

“There has to be some liability protection,” he said, adding, “think of that small restaurant when people were told not to wear a mask and now someone is going to file a claim. Just the discovery would make them bankrupt.”

The package does not include another round of $1,200 direct payments, but does contain $288 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which would be geared to small-business loans, as well as $180 billion in unemployment benefits that would give jobless Americans an additional $300 per week.

Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, agreed that more relief funding is needed, but that the $908 billion package would give coronavirus-devastated Americans the help they need to make it through the first quarter of 2021.

“It’s a deal that must come together,” Mr. Manchin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We don’t have a choice now. It’s one of those things that has to be done.”

He said the timing is critical. “The $908 billion investment we make into the citizens of this country, trying to keep this economy from collapsing, could be more important than $2 trillion would be in February [or] March if we do nothing,” Mr. Manchin said.

Mr. Warner said he has received expressions of support from Republicans.

“The number of Republican senators, both publicly and privately, who have said, hey, you guys have done the right thing, we will be there, goes up every day,” said Mr. Warner. “And I think, again, there are reports of Republican senators who are talking to President Trump about this issue.”

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