- Top Democratic and Republican leaders met twice on Tuesday to further talks on a COVID-19 relief bill.
- It was their first in-person meeting over the stimulus in months, signaling the urgency of the issue.
- All emerged optimistic for a deal to appear soon, but did not reveal details of any compromises — including the hot-button issues of stimulus checks and aid for state and local governments.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said "we're finalizing out," and that the parties are exchanging papers, according to The Washington Post.
- An aide told The New York Times that a deal could come as soon as Wednesday.
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Leaders from both sides of the aisle expressed optimism for reaching agreement on COVID-19 stimulus — possible even by Wednesday — after two productive meetings on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met on Tuesday afternoon and again in the evening, The Washington Post reported.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also joined the first by phone, having spoken to Pelosi for an hour beforehand, according to The New York Times.
"We're finalizing out," McCarthy said, according to the Post. The group is "exchanging our papers," he told the Times, which also reported an aide as saying an agreement could be ready as soon as Wednesday.
Adding to hopes that the process would move on at pace, aides familiar with the discussions told the Post that committee staff had been primed to review legislative text on Tuesday night.
The House is due to meet Wednesday, with votes expected at 3 p.m., according to the Post.
The top party figures were tight-lipped about the details of what might be in a deal, but all expressed confidence in the progress made.
"I'll just say it was a good meeting, that's all," the Post reported Schumer as saying.
"We're making significant progress and I'm optimistic that we're going to be able to complete an understanding sometime soon," said McConnell, according to the Associated Press.
McConnell has been the most intransigent in the latest phases of negotiations, so far having refused to countenance Democrat proposals or a smaller bipartisan plan that has made some headway with both parties in the deadlock.
But prior to Tuesday's talks, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the architects of the bipartisan proposal, told Axios that the GOP was ready to use the bipartisan framework as the basis of a deal.
A Republican senior leadership aide pushed back, though, arguing that "Joe Manchin wants to be the hero here and say, 'I gave Mitch McConnell the bill that is going to be signed into law,'" per Axios.
"That is not what's going to happen."
The real reason the eventual deal might look like the bipartisan one is that it's already similar to what the GOP is willing to sign off on, the aide said.
The bipartisan proposal made progress when the group agreed to slice off the two issues that sparked most disagreement between the parties — aid for state and local governments sought by Democrats, and liability protections for businesses in the pandemic, backed by Republicans.
It remains unclear whether any deal will include another round of stimulus checks, as distributed in the spring.
These are not included in the bipartisan framework, but the Democratic Progressive Caucus have called for them — with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying this will be a red-line issue in her voting plans.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has also said that Congress "cannot go home" without providing them. President Donald Trump has also signaled support.
Tuesday's meeting was the first in-person gathering of top party figures in months, reflecting the extreme urgency of passing some sort of stimulus by Christmas.
The unemployment benefits and other protections in the CARES Act, enacted in the first wave of the pandemic, are set to expire by the end of the year — against a backdrop of COVID-19 infection rates that are showing scant sign of slowing down. Further, funding is needed to distribute a vaccine to give the country a chance to return to normal.
Congress already extended its deadline to agree its overall spending bill until Friday. But McConnell said on Tuesday that lawmakers must not break for Christmas without agreeing COVID-19 relief.
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