Colorado lawmakers are urging leaders in Washington to keep working toward a deal on a COVID-19 relief package. President Donald Trump called for a halt to negotiations earlier this week, raising fears that a delay in relief aid could increase economic fallout from the already destructive pandemic.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet echoed other Democrats in quickly denouncing the suggested postponement, calling it “political games.”
“(Coloradans) need relief now to put food on the table, pay the bills and keep their businesses from shutting their doors forever,” Bennet said in a statement emailed to The Durango Herald.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Trump said he had ordered representatives of his administration to cease negotiations on a second round of COVID-19 relief until after the Nov. 3 election.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump wrote in his initial series of tweets.
He has since rolled back those statements, saying he is willing to sign a small-business relief package if it is passed as a standalone bill instead of as a part of a larger aid package.
In Durango, several restaurants have permanently closed this year, citing the financial troubles brought on by the pandemic as a primary reason. The Palace Restaurant, Eno Cocktail Lounge and Wine Bar and others announced plans to close for good as a result of the pandemic.
Many small businesses saw their financial situations improve over the summer as bump-outs along Main Avenue provided additional seating while the pandemic continued to restrict indoor seating capacity.
However, the outdoor seating initiative is set to end Nov. 2, the day before the election, and not return until April. That has raised fears the winter could lead to dire straits for local businesses still operating at 50% capacity or less because of the pandemic unless new relief is passed.
Although Trump signaled he would sign individual bills for small-business relief, airline relief or direct stimulus checks, Congress has hesitated to pass individual relief bills in the past in favor of negotiating larger packages containing several bills.
This has left it uncertain whether any small-business relief will be brought forward before the election; Democrats and Republicans have encouraged negotiations to continue. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner released a statement urging all parties involved to keep working toward a deal.
“The people of Colorado are strong and resilient, but they need help to get through this pandemic and there’s more work to be done.” Gardner said. “I will keep fighting for relief to help Coloradans through COVID-19, and I’m calling on members of both parties to return to the negotiating table.”
The pandemic has wrought widespread havoc throughout Colorado and the nation. In addition to the financial struggles brought on by statewide lockdowns, more than 200,000 people have died from the virus caused by COVID-19. Although the economy has recovered somewhat from the early days of the pandemic, lawmakers widely acknowledge the need for a new relief package.
Before Trump’s abrupt announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had spent several days negotiating with White House representatives on a new bill. In his tweets, however, Trump wrote that Pelosi was “not negotiating in good faith” and that he was therefore rejecting her proposals for a stimulus.
The primary sticking point between the negotiating parties is the price tag of a relief package. House Democrats recently voted in favor of a $2.2 trillion relief bill, but the White House has said that is too expensive. Democrats have said the need is too great to pass any package worth less than $2 trillion.
Both parties have spent several months putting forward relief packages, most of which were struck down along partisan lines.
A new stimulus package would likely include similar provisions to the $2 trillion CARES Act, which passed Congress in March. That package included provisions for direct stimulus checks as well as support for schools, health care workers and more.
The act offered support to small businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, which granted loans to support businesses that were losing profit in the pandemic. The program was later expanded to extend the period of the loan.
In the Senate, Republicans brought forth their own relief package in September. That package was blocked from a full floor vote by Democrats, who said it didn’t offer enough relief.
In his tweets, Trump wrote that he had requested Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to focus on working to confirm his nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, instead of pushing forward with relief negotiations.
Barrett’s confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Monday, and Republican leadership hopes she can be confirmed to the seat before the election.
The Senate also is facing an abbreviated schedule in the coming weeks. After several senators tested positive for COVID-19, McConnell announced the full Senate will not meet again until Oct. 19.
John Purcell is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.