Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has agreed to resume negotiations with Democrats over a potential new Covid-19 relief bill as cases continue to surge around the country, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday.
"Last night, they've agreed to sit down and the staffs are going to sit down today or tomorrow to try to begin to see if we can get a real good Covid relief bill," the minority leader said during a news conference in New York. "So there's been a little bit of a breakthrough in that McConnell's folks are finally sitting down and talking to us."
Republican and Democratic congressional aides, however, told NBC News that Schumer might have oversold the development, as both sides begin negotiations on government funding to stave off a government shutdown on Dec. 11.
Schumer's office didn't immediately respond to a request for clarification. McConnell's office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a stalemate over the details and size of any potential stimulus legislation since before President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in this month's election.
It has been months since Congress has authorized new financial relief to combat the recession inflicted by the coronavirus. The Senate adjourned on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday with little evidence that the two sides were any closer to reaching a deal.
The lack of action from Congress has left millions of Americans in a financially precarious position.
Without an extension to the CARES Act passed in March, about 12 million Americans are expected to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December. A federal eviction moratorium put in place as a result of the crisis will also expire at year's end.
Meetings between Republican and Democratic staff members would be a first step in what could be a protracted process. Democrats have proposed at least $2.2 trillion in spending, while McConnell has signaled that he will not support legislation north of $500 billion.
In May, House Democrats passed a $3 trillion package that would have provided more direct payments to individuals and extended the $600-a-week federal unemployment assistance. McConnell has said he believes the relief legislation should be "narrowly targeted."
The prospect of renewed negotiations comes against the backdrop of a startling rise in new coronavirus cases in virtually every U.S. state.
More than 250,000 in the U.S. have died of Covid-19 since it emerged late last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Promising vaccine data made public this month has provided hope of containing the virus, though such an accomplishment is expected to take until well into 2021 at the earliest.
As the pandemic continues to spread, Trump has largely been focused on contesting the results of the presidential election. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert, told CNN that the president had not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in months.
Biden has lined up behind Democrats' stimulus proposals.
"For millions of Americans who've lost hours and wages, or have lost jobs, we can deliver immediate relief, and it need be done quickly," Biden said Monday. "Congress should come together and pass a Covid relief package."
Biden is expected to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday, aides for Pelosi and the Biden transition team told NBC News.