Congress Proposes $908 Billion Bipartisan Bill

With less than two weeks to approve a bill that would provide more aid for struggling Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, all eyes are on Congressional leaders.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed a $908 billion package developed by a bipartisan coalition as a means to revive stimulus talks.

“In the spirit of compromise, we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement.”

The proposed measure emerged as Democrats and Republicans resume negotiations following the delay prior to the election. On Monday, Pelosi and Schumer gave Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a revised deal with an unidentified price tag, which Schumer referred to as “a private proposal to help us move the ball forward.”

The $908 billion bipartisan bill introduced on Tuesday is considerably smaller than the HEROES Act the House approved in May, which has a $2.2 trillion price tag. The latest version contains $160 billion to fund state and local governments, $180 billion for more unemployment benefits, $228 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), temporary liability protections, and other measures.

The new proposal would not provide another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, which both Congress and the White House initially supported over the last several months of negotiations.

The bipartisan bill would be partially funded by $560 billion left over from the CARES Act, with $348 billion in new funding. It is backed by four Republicans and five Democrats in the Senate. But as Mark Harkins, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute, told Yahoo Money, four GOP senators are too few to influence other Republicans. 

“That bipartisan coalition is only nine people,” Harkins explained. “If you had a partisan deal on one side or the other, and those people came with you, you’re still looking at 53 to 56 votes. That’s still not 60.”

In response, McConnell revealed a separate stimulus deal on Tuesday. The $333 billion proposal is similar to McConnell’s two measures proposed in September and October — which the Senate voted against. Schumer called the Kentucky Senator’s bill “even more insufficient than the previous two attempts.”

McConnell’s version would offer more PPP funding, liability protections for business, a one-month renewal of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, and other measures. But by using old funds from the CARES Act, the bill could come to around $500 billion.

“If McConnell were serious about working with the Democrats, he wouldn’t have put back out his same proposal again,” Harkins noted. “Because that’s obviously a nonstarter.”

 

In response to inquiries about the bipartisan package on Tuesday, McConnell stated that “we just don’t have time to waste time.”

“The place to start is, are we actually making a law or are we just making a point,” he added. “The way you make a law for sure is you’ve got a presidential signature.”

McConnell said his version is designed to attract President Trump’s support so a package can get approved during the lame-duck session. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin verified that the president would sign McConnel’s latest offer.

McConnell also stated that Congress will continue to negotiate additional stimulus after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, noting that his recent proposal focuses on “the things that we can agree on now.”

“We all know that after the first of the year, there’s likely to be a discussion about some additional package of some size next year, depending upon what the new administration wants to pursue,” McConnell remarked.

The fate of a larger bill hinges on the outcome of the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff in January. Unless Democrats flip the two seats, Harkins theorizes they may not get any of the measures they’ve pushed for, even with a Biden administration.

“[Pelosi] has got to be very careful because if she takes a third of a deal right now,” Harkins warned. “She may get a zero deal next year if the Republicans win both the Georgia seats.”

If lawmakers do not approve the bipartisan bill or McConnell’s proposal before the end of the year, the PUA, PEUC, and other key provisions will expire, and as many as 12 million unemployed Americans will lose vital safety nets.

 

Sources
  • Tsekova, Denitsa. “Democratic Leaders Back Bipartisan $908 Billion Coronavirus Stimulus Proposal.” Yahoo!, Yahoo!, 2 Dec. 2020, money.yahoo.com/democratic-leaders-back-bipartisan-coronavirus-stimulus-proposal-201334073.html.
  • Tsekova, Denitsa. “McConnell’s $333 Billion Stimulus Proposal Is ‘Obviously a Nonstarter,’ Expert Says.” Yahoo!, Yahoo!, 2 Dec. 2020, money.yahoo.com/mcconnell-stimulus-proposal-nonstarter-201620052.html.
Ian Schindler