Lawmakers discuss additional Covid relief amid Omicron, but talks stall

Originally Published: 05 JAN 22 09:04 ET

    (CNN) -- A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers discussed the possibility of another economic stimulus package last year amid the Omicron wave of coronavirus, but talks failed to move forward.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi held preliminary conversations with stakeholders on additional relief for several businesses that continue to be impacted by the pandemic, including restaurants, gyms, and performance venues, in December, a source familiar with the talks told CNN. But the talks were shelved before any legislation was introduced and there was no buy-in from Senate leadership.

There were no serious discussions on the matter on the House side, a House leadership aide said, with a second aide adding that the talks, which were first reported by The Washington Post, were "extremely early stages."

And a senior Biden administration official poured cold water on any further stimulus at this time, leaving the possibility open to some relief for restaurants.

"No. There might be something small for restaurants. But the economy is booming, there are millions of open jobs, and we do not believe people should be sitting at home if they are vaccinated and boosted, as most adults are," the senior official said when asked if additional stimulus legislation was being taken seriously.

The official added, "So we are not going to write checks to incentivize people to sit at home, and we are not going to bail out businesses if the economy seems strong," leaving the possibility open "if something changes."

The discussions come after Congress passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, which included $1,400 stimulus checks for many Americans, money for states and municipalities, schools, and small businesses, an extension of weekly unemployment benefits, and funding for vaccine distribution. It also included an increase in food stamp benefits, rent support for low-income households, and additional subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies.

It also included a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help support restaurants across the country facing closures in the industry that operates on razor-thin margins. That fund ran out earlier this year. As the pandemic has continued to rage, with cases surging due to the Omicron variant, many owners have been forced to close their doors again.

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