Party leaders in both the House and the Senate met Tuesday to hammer out the final details for a second COVID-19 relief package, as well as reach a spending deal to avoid a government shutdown that would cause government funding to lapse at the end of the week and cut off unemployment checks to 10.7 million Americans who are currently out of work.
Two previous attempts at a congressional deal for a second relief package collapsed over two contentious sticking points -- Democratic insistence that relief funding also be allocated to state and local governments, and a Republican push for liability protections for business owners if patrons or employees contract COVID-19 at restaurants, theaters, offices and other public spaces.
Monday congressional leaders agreed to split the relief package into two bills. The first bill would fund many of the popular bi-partisan aid packages -- including the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act -- and deliver $740 billion total in relief funding for programs like vaccine distribution and aid to small businesses. The second bill, costing $148 billion, would deal with the local government funding and liability issues.
Klobuchar says she has continued to monitor the $740 billion bipartisan spending bill to ensure that Save Our Stages -- a grant program for independent venues, clubs and agencies -- is included.
"We've been negotiating this bill through the weeks, and I've talked to 25 different senators to make sure that we kept the formula" in place for determining how much financial aid each venue receives, says Klobuchar. Under the Save Our Stages allocation model, qualifying venues will receive an initial grant of up to $12 million for costs incurred from March through December as well as a supplemental grant equal to 50% of the initial grant that may be used for expenses incurred through June 30, 2021.
"There were some real issues with that, and people don't quite know what an incredible force we were to be reckoned with in terms of all the grassroots support," Klobuchar tells Billboard. "We were able to keep the coalition together through some stormy moments."
That coalition includes 56 senators, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Doug Jones (D-Ala), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
"I think the fact that Sen. Cornyn and I have worked well together has been really important. We've done a lot of bills together before," Klobuchar says, noting that the bi-partisan legislation was an example of how senators "stuck with it and stuck together."
She adds, "The grass root efforts were also key. It was so clear during today's hearing [that] this is about First Avenue in Minneapolis and The Cotillion in Wichita and the Fargo Theater. It's about protecting independent venues that [are] critical to our communities."