A collection of bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers floated Tuesday a $908 billion COVID-19 relief framework that includes liability protections and $100 billion for providers.
The package has not been introduced in either chamber and hasn’t been endorsed yet by House or Senate leadership and the White House. But it underscores the intense desire among lawmakers to get something done in the lame-duck congressional period.
“We are determined not to go home until we do something,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, during a press conference Tuesday outlining the package.
The package would give $25 billion for testing and contact tracing. It would also give $30 billion for healthcare providers that includes but is not limited to telehealth expansion, according to a framework for the package.
The framework doesn’t exactly say how the $30 billion will be distributed but lawmakers did say that there will be money for rural providers who have been slammed by the pandemic.
The lawmakers also propose to forgive $45 billion in Medicare loans to providers.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Accelerated and Advance Payments Program has loaned out more than $100 billion to providers before the program was suspended in April. The advance payments are essentially loans that must be repaid by the providers, although Congress did give providers more time to do so in recent legislation.
Another critical part of the package sure to please providers is liability protections for lawsuits related to COVID-19.
“We did negotiate a liability provision that provides a temporary moratorium, suspension on any liability related lawsuit at the state or federal level associated with COVID,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, at the conference.
The goal is to give states more time to pass their own laws surrounding liability protections from COVID-19.
“Any state that hasn’t put in protections haven’t thought this through very carefully,” Romney said.
Hospital groups have been imploring Congress to give more relief and to get liability protections.
The CARES Act, which Congress passed back in April, included a $175 billion fund to help providers offset massive losses caused by drops in patient volume from COVID-19.
But an analysis released in June by the American Hospital Association estimated that hospitals could lose $20 billion a month for the rest of the year without more help.
The package got the endorsement from the House’s Problem Solvers Caucus, which includes 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans.
Several bipartisan senators also signed on to the package, but senators said that they haven’t gotten buy-in from leadership in the House or Senate.
“We have not had assurances from them on that for a vote, but I think the American people will put the pressure that something needs to be done,” Manchin said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been at loggerheads over the size of a COVID-19 relief package for months.
The House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act back in May, but it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. McConnell, on the other hand, has endorsed a roughly $500 billion package that offers more targeted relief.
Romney said that the lawmakers have also communicated with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about the effort, and Mnuchin has not weighed in one way or the other. Mnuchin has taken the lead for the White House in congressional negotiations.
But lawmakers are hoping that the package spurs congressional leadership to reach some sort of compromise during the lame-duck period.
“We are hearing from members across the spectrum that they want to get something done before they go home,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.