As the US shatters records for the number of COVID-19 cases, some members of Congress are mulling a fresh round of economic relief for businesses.

The Washington Post's Tony Romm first reported that lawmakers from both parties were in talks about potentially proposing to pump billions into businesses, including hard-hit ones like restaurants. The Post reported that Sens. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican — who are reportedly leading the talks — had put together a $68 billion proposal in December.

"We started with restaurants but we're prepared to expand it if we can have the necessary support," Cardin told reporters on Wednesday. "There's other industries that have legitimate concerns."

He said that lawmakers are looking at "how much is needed" for the restaurant fund. In May 2021, the White House opened the Restaurant Revitalization Fund for applications, with $28.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan up for grabs. They received 186,000 applications in the first two days alone.

A White House official told Insider on Wednesday that the Biden administration is "continuing to closely track" the Omicron wave though no final decision had been made to push for another relief plan.

"But we are not in the same place we were last year," the official said, adding that there were still leftover funds from the $1.9 trillion stimulus law that could be repurposed and the unemployment rate had fallen significantly since early 2021.

Any legislation would need at least 10 GOP senators to back the bill so it clears the Senate and reaches Biden's desk. It could be an uphill struggle for Democrats to get the support from Senate Republicans weary of additional government spending.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of  North Dakota, told Insider that he's open to a targeted relief package for restaurants, saying it's been the hardest hit sector and one of the last to recover.

"I would be open to reasonable discussions in a bipartisan way," Cramer said, saying he's not yet convinced of the need but that he thinks "we are starting the process."

For any package to get those 10 necessary Republican votes, it would have to focus on providing aid to businesses, Cramer said — "keeping people working, keeping things being produced, as opposed to just free money somewhere."

"I think there's some members who are interested in some more COVID relief for restaurants and other things, and that could certainly become part of a package," key GOP Senator Roy Blunt told Insider.

The Missouri Republican said he thinks there's an "opportunity" to explore new payments to businesses after Congress' upcoming negotiations over election reform, and he hopes to take advantage of some "real appropriations work" as Democrats continue "their reckless spending spree."

It's unlikely that the relief plan will include additional direct payments or federal unemployment benefits. The Biden administration didn't push to renew the $300 unemployment supplement beyond September, and the White House has said any additional stimulus checks would be up to Congress.

Some senior Democrats are throwing their support behind the effort to assemble another COVID-19 relief package, including Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "I think the need is very significant," he told Insider.

"There are a lot of people who tell us that they're going to be falling between the cracks  — that there was a big, big problem before the new variant — and it's gotten greater in the last few weeks," Wyden said.
Source: MSN
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