Negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill remained stuck in Congress on Friday, as disputes over liability and aid to states tripped up earlier optimism.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell repeated a call for a relief package that has no protection for
companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits but also no state and local aid.

“I propose setting aside both liability protections and
state and local bailouts and making law where we can agree,” said the Kentucky
Republican.

But that idea was once again rejected by Senate Minority
Leader Chuck Schumer, who said: “To equate, state and local aid — money for
policemen, firefighters, bus drivers, sanitation workers — to complete
corporate immunity is false equivalence.” The New York Democrat said the
liability shield had no support among Democrats while “many Republicans” back
state and local aid.

U.S. stocks
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opened lower Friday, hurt in part by the lack of stimulus progress.

Thursday, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had reported progress in talks on more aid. But optimism faded after McConnell’s staff was reported to have told House and Senate leadership staff that a bipartisan group’s attempt to combine $160 billion in state and local aid and a temporary liability shield probably wouldn’t pass muster with most Republicans.

There had previously been optimism that the bipartisan group’s $908 billion aid proposal might be acceptable to enough Democrats and Republicans to deliver relief to struggling Americans before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Politico reported Friday that committee leaders in both chambers have begun negotiating noncontroversial aspects of the relief package, including small business funding. The report described the fresh talks as a last-ditch attempt to cobble together a stimulus deal.   

Victor Reklaitis contributed to this report.

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