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Democrats shift position on a sized-down economic relief bill

Lawmakers are under pressure to reach another economic relief deal as COVID-19 cases and deaths spike across the country. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S Senate. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss a new bipartisan proposal and why Democrats have changed their stance on a relief bill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lawmakers here in Washington are under pressure to reach another economic relief deal, as COVID cases and deaths spike across the country.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement today that the bipartisan bill unveiled yesterday should be the starting point for negotiations going forward.

    Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, and he joins us now.

    Senator Durbin, thank you so much for being with us again.

    What caused the Democrats to change their starting point? We had heard Speaker Pelosi insisting on that $2.2 trillion, but now you're looking at something that's a lot less than that. What happened?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.:

    Well, we're in the reality period of time.

    On December the 26th, 12 million Americans will be cut off from unemployment insurance. We know that businesses are struggling to survive and they need a helping hand.

    State and local governments have faced downturn in their revenues. We know we need more money for the distribution to have the vaccine. When you stack them all up, Judy, that's why this bipartisan coalition of senators and House members have been working for weeks to find something that we can agree on, that we can fight for.

    And we have done it. We have come up, I think, maybe one or two items still to be resolved, important items, but only one or two, and so many of them that we have agreed on, that the leaders, Pelosi, Schumer, have said they want this to be the starting point to get something done now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I now you have been working with that bipartisan group.

    But, Senator, with all due respect, the need has been great for months now. Why just now, in early December, are Democrats moving their position?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I'm the wrong senator to ask.

    The senator should be Senator McConnell. He was the one who decides what's brought to the floor. And six months ago — I think it was six months ago — Nancy Pelosi passed a substantial bill, which I fully supported, the HEROES Act.

    And then she came back and reduced the number to try to get in range of negotiation, and passed that bill as well. So, we have done this. We have brought this to the House and the Senate for consideration for months on end. But we're at the end of our rope here. We have got to do something.

    How in the world can the members of the Congress go home and celebrate Christmas, knowing that, the next morning, 12 million Americans are losing their unemployment insurance?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think it will take to get a deal?

    What is going to need to have — what are Democrats prepared to live with? And where do you see give on the part of Republicans?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Well, I can tell you, we have been giving negotiations back and forth for the last several weeks. And there's been a lot of give and take. And there still is. We hardly ever meet that we don't revisit one of these items on here.

    But it's $908 billion, a basic bipartisan agreement. What we need, we need Senator McConnell to say you're going to get a day on the floor, we're going to have a vote on this, and we're going to do it in a timely fashion, so that we can consider passing it in the Senate, maybe do the same in the House or some version of it, work out our differences, and get it done on a bipartisan basis.

    I think that's what the American people are clamoring for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you satisfied with this — I mean, clearly, there's more than you would have liked to have seen in here.

    But you can live with this? And do you think the majority of Democrats can live with this?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I think they can. I believe they can.

    Now, Pelosi and Schumer have said this is a starting point, so maybe there will be some further negotiations. But we believe this $908 billion, for the next four months, December through the first three months of the year, is an emergency response that is desperately needed.

    When we're talking about distributing vaccine, why in the world is there any difference of opinion, when we're talking about money for education, when we're talking about money for businesses to be able to survive, and basically to give to units of government some kind of relief from the struggles that they're going through?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, I know you're pointing a finger at the Republican leader, Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

    But, of course, Republicans are pointing right back at Democrats and Speaker Pelosi and saying, there was no give on her part, on the part of Democrats. What is the public to believe here?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I hope they will believe this simple statement.

    This proposal, this bipartisan proposal from House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, should have a day on the floor of each chamber. If people want to offer amendments, so be it, let them offer amendments. But let's start at this point that we worked out among ourselves a bipartisan agreement.

    If you can come up with something better, more power to you. But, if you can't, let's at least do this as quickly as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think this can get done by the end of next week, when Congress is due to go home?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Absolutely. It can absolutely get done.

    The — Senator McConnell, as I said, controls the floor. He decides what comes up on the floor. And he can make the decision that we're going to move through this very quickly. And he should. None of us want to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day here in Washington, but we also don't want to go home and turn our backs on the people who desperately need our help.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, is part of your thinking that, if you can get this passed, that you would expect president-elect Biden, his team, the Democrats under a new administration, to come back early in the new year and ask for more relief? Is that part of what the thinking is?

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    I don't want to try to guess what the Biden agenda will be or the timing of it.

    But, for instance, we provide, I think, it's $8 billion for additional distribution of the vaccine across America. It could be that number is not enough, and we need more. Are we going to slow down the effort to do it? It would be under the new president. He would make a proposal, maybe, even some other areas, think there was a sense of urgency.

    What we try to do is take it through the end of March. And beyond that, it's going to be up to the new administration and the new Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The second ranking Democrat in the United States Senate, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thank you so much.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    Thanks, Judy.

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