The last two weeks have seen lawmakers scrambling to make progress on another COVID-19 relief bill before the holiday recess. Last week, a bipartisan coalition introduced a $908 billion stimulus package containing critical provisions introduced by each party.
On Tuesday, the White House proposed its own $916 billion deal, which would provide reduced stimulus checks and do away with supplemental unemployment benefits — a key measure supported by the bilateral group.
According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, he approached House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the deal Tuesday afternoon but offered little information besides that. However, House Minority Leader Keven McCarthy said the Trump administration’s offer would provide individuals with just $600 and $1,200 for couples.
Mnuchin contacted Pelosi following a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders. In response, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed their desire for a bipartisan group to head negotiations.
The dual-party coalition, headed by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and others, is urging fellow Congressmembers on both sides of the aisle to support the $908 relief bill. The bipartisan package would give jobless Americans an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits and allocate $160 billion for cash-strapped local and state governments.
The bipartisan deal is larger than the package outlined by McConnell, which has failed to gain Senate support twice, but smaller than what Democrats have called for since May.
Initially, McConnell refused to back funding for local and state governments, a key measure for Democrats, unless they accepted his proposed liability protections for businesses. Democrat leaders refused to include the provision, claiming the Senate Majority Leader was subverting the bipartisan coalition’s efforts and going back on previous promises that he would have state and local funding in the next pandemic relief bill.
Between the White House’s $916 billion proposal, President Trump’s ever-changing requirements, and disjointed efforts from top senators continue to complicate a long-overdue coronavirus relief bill. Both sides feel the pressure and say there is no choice but to pass something before the recess.
The White House deal includes stimulus payments, which President Trump, Democrats, and Americans have supported. However, many GOP members have rejected the measure, citing the cost and claiming that it would distribute too much assistance to people who don’t need it.
“Right now we’re targeting struggling families, failing businesses, health care workers and we don’t have a stimulus check to every single person, regardless of need,” Collins noted.
McConnell asserts that Congress will not leave Washington until it passes more economic aid. Previously, he claimed he would refuse to put any stimulus package to the vote unless it contained liability protections for businesses, schools, and other organizations that remain open during the pandemic.
“Leaving here without a COVID relief package cannot happen,” McConnell stated. “Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues. We know we’re going to be confronted with another request after the first of the year. We’ll live to fight those another day.”
But Schumer rejected the appeal, asserting that many Republicans, such as Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), support funding for state and local governments. Pelosi also criticized McConnell’s deal as an effort to undermine the dual-party coalition.
Pelosi originally called for over $900 billion for state and local funding last spring. But as states’ financial deficits have proven less severe than anticipated, she and other Democratic leaders are more willing to accept the bipartisan deal’s $160 billion.
Currently, Congressional leaders are postponing a government shutdown to the end of the following week. Still, talks are slow going, and lawmakers have yet to set anything in stone — though the House will vote on a one-week stopgap funding bill Wednesday. Unless the measure passes, the government shutdown will begin this weekend.
In a separate negotiation on Monday, Pelosi and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AK) discussed a $1.4 trillion government spending budget. Lawmakers remain at odds over crucial provisions such as safeguards for the sage grouse, the Census, and accounting moves used by lawmakers to inject $12 billion into the legislation.
McConnell originally introduced broad five-year liability protection backdated to December 2019 to deter virus-related claims against businesses and other groups. Democrats, labor advocates, and civil rights organizations strongly oppose this, noting the risk to workers.
But, as Schumer remarked, “Contrary to the majority leader’s dire predictions, there has been no flood of COVID lawsuits. In fact, quite the opposite. Far from the pandemic of lawsuits, there’s barely been a trickle.”
- Press, Associated. “2nd Stimulus Checks: New White House Offer Adds $600 Payments to COVID-19 Relief.” KTLA, KTLA, 9 Dec. 2020, ktla.com/news/politics/2nd-stimulus-checks-new-white-house-offer-adds-600-payments-to-covid-19-relief/.