U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said Wednesday a slimmed down COVID-19 stimulus package can still be passed and signed by President Trump before the end of the year.

“There is a path forward to put an emergency bill together before the end of the year that the president will sign,” Reed, R-Corning, told reporters during his weekly press call.

The congressman said, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, he’s spoken with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about a stimulus package of under $1 trillion, that could help provide relief until March.

Reed blamed congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for failing to come to come to an agreement the president would sign before now.

“It could get us through March 1 and allow for the next administration under Biden to be in a position to judge if more aid is needed,” Reed said.

Some of the pushback Reed is getting from Senate leaders is that the Jan. 5 Senate races in Georgia seem to be a priority for now.

“That is downright disappointing,” Reed said, blaming the politics of the Senate. “Their priorities are all wrong. Their priorities should be the American people who are suffering.”

The Democrat-led House passed the $3.2 trillion HEROES Act in May, but the Senate never passed a bill that would go to a conference committee to resolve differences.

Reed said the Problem Solvers Caucus “is not going to just sit idly by. We are getting stronger every day. We are ready to lead if they don’t want to.” He said he is also in contact with a bipartisan group in the Senate.

Reed’s advice to House and Senate leaders: “If you are not going to do a deal, get out of the way and let other leaders” negotiate a deal.

The parameters of an agreement are not hard to imagine, Reed explained. It needs to include aid to individuals — including enhanced unemployment — and small business help via an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, healthcare, testing and contact tracing and vaccine distribution.

Reed would also target industries like airlines, tourism and restaurants which have been hit hard by shutdowns and limitations on business. Communities that rely on tourism dollars are another big concern, Reed said.

Above all, Reed emphasized, “We have to contain the virus as vigorously as we can” to avoid a statewide shutdown.

The recent news that several vaccines are expected to be distributed in late December or early January is very exciting, Reed said.

Would the lack of a new stimulus bill hamper distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Not at first, Reed replied. But further on down the priority list, the lack of funding for states could pose problems. “Don’t wait until the last minute,” he added.

What about personal protective equipment?

While supply chains for masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment are better than in the spring, Reed said some chokepoints remain.

A vaccine is the ultimate solution,” Reed said. “The sooner we get it, the sooner we can have COVID-19 become a thing of history.”

On another issue, Reed said he was “very pleased” to see General Services Administration Director Emily Murphy had recognized President-elect Joe Biden had won the election despite Trump carrying on his fight to overturn the vote for president.

Reed said that while the presidential election did not turn out the way he had wished, “it is prudent to have a responsible transition plan” for national security and COVID-19 purposes.

Reed acknowledged a possible eviction crisis once state and federal executive orders expire in January. He said the solution will have to be a legislative one and it could include housing assistance to keep rent payments going to owners who have to maintain the housing, make loan payments and pay taxes.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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