Monday, November 30, 2020

Prospects for more stimulus checks, coronavirus relief fade as latest offer from Trump draws opposition from Republicans and Democrats

Oct 11. 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi/ File photo
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi/ File photo
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By The Washington Post · Erica Werner, Jeff Stein · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, POLITICS, CONGRESS, WHITEHOUSE

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., raised intense objections Saturday to a new $1.8 trillion economic relief proposal from the Trump administration, greatly dimming prospects for a coronavirus relief deal before the election.

On a conference call Saturday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, multiple GOP senators denounced the proposal, attacking the price tag as too big, questioning the overall direction and criticizing individual proposals, according to several people who participated in the call or were briefed on its contents. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussion.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called a proposed expansion of Affordable Care Act tax credits to the unemployed "an enormous betrayal" of the GOP's long-standing opposition to Obamacare.

"I don't get it," said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., of the giant spending proposal that incorporates a number of Democratic priorities that are anathema to the GOP.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., predicted that advancing such legislation would prove the "death knell" of the GOP majority.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said that the deal could complicate floor timing as the Senate tries to fill the Supreme Court vacancy this month, and hurt Republicans at the ballot box because the Supreme Court fight would no longer be front and center.

The opposition was so fierce that Meadows told the group at one point, "You all will have to come to my funeral" because he would have to take their message back to President Donald Trump. The president has begun pushing aggressively for a big new spending deal he hopes could boost his reelection chances, reversing course after he pulled the plug on talks earlier in the week. Mnuchin sent the White House's latest offer on Friday.

Almost at the same moment Senate Republicans were on the conference call, Pelosi released a letter to House Democrats that signaled the White House proposal would need significant changes and that it took "one step forward, two steps back."

Pelosi said the president's offer did not contain enough spending for unemployment insurance, state and local aid, child care, or other Democratic priorities. She said it also includes "reckless" language on liability protections for businesses and others. House Democrats have been pushing legislation with a $2.2 trillion price tag.

"When the president talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold, rather than agreeing on language prescribing how we honor our workers, crush the virus and put money in the pockets of workers," Pelosi wrote.

Nonetheless, Pelosi wrote that she remained "hopeful" that two sides would find "an agreement on a relief package that addresses the health and economic crisis facing America's families." Given Senate GOP opposition, however, it was unclear there was much basis for optimism.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already has voiced skepticism about the prospects for passing a new coronavirus bill ahead of the election.

White House and Treasury officials did not respond to requests for comment on Pelosi's letter or on the concerns being raised by Senate Republicans.

Saturday's developments left uncertain whether there was any path forward for a new relief bill, despite millions out of work and multiple signs the economic recovery has slowed. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned just days ago that without additional stimulus there could be a "a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses."

Congress passed four bipartisan bills totaling an unprecedented $3 trillion in new spending in March and April, but since then lawmakers have failed to reach any new agreement and many of the programs approved in the spring have expired. Talks have been revived only to fall apart again several times.

After announcing Tuesday that he was ordering Mnuchin to stop negotiating with Pelosi, Trump changed course after the stock market sunk and some Republicans facing tough reelection races questioned his move. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the most endangered Republican senators in November, was among a small handful of senators who spoke up on Saturday's call in favor of a new relief bill - though not necessarily the specific deal Mnuchin has offered Pelosi, people familiar with the call said.

That proposal includes provisions many people in both parties support, including a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks, small business support and aid to airlines that have begun mass furloughs after federal aid expired Sept. 30. But in other areas - including unemployment insurance - the two sides are far apart on the price tag, with Democrats supporting $600 weekly unemployment benefits while the administration proposal provides for only $400.

The new administration offer includes $300 billion in state and local aid, an increase from $250 billion in an earlier proposal. But it still falls short of what Democrats want - while at the same time it's too much for many Republicans to swallow. Excessive state and local aid spending was another concern voiced by GOP senators on Saturday's call.

Overall, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told Meadows and Mnuchin Saturday, there's not much appetite to spend at the levels proposed by the administration.

Additionally, the administration proposal includes some items that Republicans view as poison pills. Republicans say the expansion of Affordable Care Act raises concerns about taxpayer funding of abortions, although Democrats dispute that interpretation of the provision. It also would allow certain undocumented immigrants to receive stimulus checks, another non-starter for many Republicans.

Despite the strong opposition expressed to the most recent proposal offered by Mnuchin, many senators on the call generally indicated they wanted Mnuchin and Pelosi to keep talking, according to the people familiar with the discussion.

 

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