U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) takes questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 1, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Top congressional Democrats ratcheted up the pressure to strike a coronavirus stimulus deal Friday after new data showed sluggish jobs growth in the face of an infection surge.
Nonfarm payrolls grew by 245,000 in November, falling significantly below expectations of 440,000. The sign of a flagging economic recovery comes amid a renewed congressional effort to pass a pandemic relief bill before the end of the year.
Democratic leaders, who have for months called for a sweeping package to boost the U.S. economy and health-care system, cited the report as further justification for Congress to act.
“This latest jobs report shows the need for strong, urgent emergency relief is more important than ever,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “Senate Republicans are increasingly understanding this urgency, and Leader McConnell should hear their pleas as well as those of the millions of struggling American families.”
“This jobs report is blaring warning that a double-dip recession is looming and must be a wakeup call for anyone who is standing in the way of true bipartisan emergency relief,” he continued.
Optimism about an agreement has increased in recent days as talks pick up on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke Thursday about both an aid package and a government funding bill Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11. It was their first conversation in at least a month.
After the conversation, McConnell told reporters the leaders are “both interested in getting an outcome, both on the omnibus and on a coronavirus package.”
Democrats have backed a $908 billion proposal unveiled by bipartisan Senate and House members as a basis for discussions with McConnell. The Senate leader wants to pass a more narrow $500 billion plan.
The sides still need to hammer out disagreements over issues including unemployment insurance, support for state and local governments, education funding and liability protections for businesses.
It is unclear how much the jobs report will affect the contents of a relief bill — or how quickly Congress can pass it. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking GOP member of the chamber, cited Friday’s jobs report as a testament to the strength of his party’s economic policies.
In a statement, he called for “targeted relief for families in Wyoming and across the country” centered around Paycheck Protection Program small business loans and Covid-19 vaccine distribution funds.
“We don’t have time to waste,” Barrasso said.
About 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits after Christmas if Congress fails to extend provisions passed earlier this year. More than 20 million people are receiving some form of unemployment insurance as the economy struggles during the outbreak.
Protections from eviction and a federal student loan payment moratorium will expire at the end of the year.
The White House has generally downplayed the extent of the economic pain in recent months. Still, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow called for a targeted relief plan on Friday.
Speaking to CNBC, he said the discussions on Capitol Hill seem to be making progress.
“Talk is good, we may be moving forward,” he said.
But he added, “I can’t promise anything this morning.”
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.