House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus stimulus plan as the basis for relief talks as Congress scrambles to send aid to Americans before the end of the year.
In a joint statement, the Democratic leaders endorsed a more narrow aid approach than they have previously. The California and New York Democrats had insisted on legislation that costs at least $2.2 trillion.
"While we made a new offer to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy on Monday, in the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations," Schumer and Pelosi said.
McConnell quickly shot down the bipartisan plan after its release Tuesday. He has endorsed only about $500 billion in spending in a new package.
Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was set to speak to McConnell on Wednesday about a pandemic relief measure. Earlier, the No. 2 House Democrat told reporters he hopes the parties can strike a deal by the end of the weekend and pass it by next week.
That would require a quick compromise amid lingering disputes over key issues. McConnell signaled Tuesday that he wants to tie aid to a government funding bill Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11.
In a possible sign that Democrats could agree to link coronavirus provisions to a spending measure, Hoyer said Wednesday that he wants to finish legislative business in the House by the same date.
"The need is great, it is immediate, it is urgent and I think we certainly have the capacity to act," he said. "By the way, Sen. McConnell agrees on that."
The renewed efforts to strike a deal follow a monthslong logjam over relief. Both parties have called to pass aid legislation before the end of 2020, but have fundamentally different views about what they need to do to boost the economy and health-care system.
Protections for unemployed Americans, renters and federal student loan borrowers will expire at the end of the year as the U.S. outbreak worsens and states and cities tighten restrictions.
Pelosi and Schumer did not offer their unequivocal endorsement of the proposal. They said that "we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement."
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke Tuesday for the first time since late October. The California Democrat said Mnuchin told her he would review both the bipartisan proposal and an unspecified offer that the top congressional Democrats made to GOP leaders on Monday.
On Wednesday, McConnell suggested the sides have reached a more productive phase of talks.
"In the last several days, the Democratic leaders have signaled a new willingness to engage in good faith," he said on the Senate floor.
It remains to be seen whether leaders can agree on what to put in a year-end measure as the GOP calls for significantly less spending than Democrats have. Both parties have acknowledged Congress will likely need to consider another aid bill next year after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
McConnell's proposal Tuesday mostly addresses small business loans, education and Covid-19 vaccine distribution. It also protects businesses from virus-related lawsuits. Democratic leaders oppose a broad liability shield.
Democrats have pushed to reinstate enhanced federal unemployment insurance payments and offer new state and local government aid. McConnell's proposal would temporarily extend an expansion of jobless benefits, but it does not include supplemental payments.
The Republican's plan also does not include state and local relief.
Multiple Senate Republicans helped to craft the bipartisan proposal unveiled Tuesday. It includes both state and local aid and an enhanced $300 per week unemployment benefit.
But other GOP senators have hewed more closely to McConnell's position. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., downplayed the need for more state and local relief Wednesday as he called for a small aid bill.
"I think there are some things that we can do constructively. But it should be much more narrowly targeted, it should be targeted in scale," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."