Centrist House group offers bipartisan COVID-19 relief deal

A bipartisan group of about 50 House lawmakers offered their own coronavirus relief plan Tuesday in a bid to revive stalled stimulus negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House before the Nov. 3 elections.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, comprised of centrist Democrats and Republicans, proposed a $1.5 trillion package that provides another round of stimulus checks, boosted unemployment insurance and much-needed aid for cities and states.

The proposal represents a last-ditch effort to strike a deal on COVID-19 relief with party leaders still about $1 trillion apart and lawmakers set to leave Washington for the campaign trail at the end of the month. The plan also comes as moderate Democrats and Republicans, many facing tough reelections, are voicing frustration about the weeks-long impasse as the pandemic has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and put millions out of work.

“The fact is, we all hear back home Americans simply can’t afford inaction,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who is co-chair of the bipartisan group along with Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). “The American people need the negotiators to get back to the table.”

The Problem Solvers’ “March to Common Ground” framework calls for $1.52 trillion in new money, though up to $2 trillion could be available if coronavirus conditions worsen, sources said. Pelosi is digging in on Democrats’ demand for a $2.2 trillion package, while the White House says President Trump could support a little more than $1 trillion in funding.

Both Pelosi’s office and White House officials have been briefed.

The bipartisan proposal would grant another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans, a popular idea backed by both the Democrats and Trump. And it would revive expired supplemental unemployment insurance at $450 per week for the first eight weeks, then provide up to $600 per week after that but capped at 100 percent of a person’s salary. Pelosi wants $600 a week in boosted insurance; the White House has offered $300 per week.

The package also includes $100 billion for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and other health efforts; $25 billion for rental and mortgage assistance to stave off evictions across the country; and new money for schools, small businesses, food aid, elections and the Postal Service.

Funding for cash-strapped cities, counties and states has been one of the biggest sticking points in the talks. The Problem Solvers have proposed $500 billion to shore up state and local governments and avert mass layoffs of police, firefighters and other public employees.

That’s roughly halfway between what Pelosi and the White House have previously proposed. Pelosi and the Democrats passed the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act last spring that called for nearly $1 trillion in emergency aid for state and local governments; the White House has offered $150 billion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday welcomed the Problem Solvers’ proposal, saying it was “useful” for airing bipartisan support for provisions spurned by Senate Republicans, including hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments.

But Hoyer rejected the package overall, saying it’s simply too small to address the acute health and economic problems caused by the coronavirus.

“I think the Problem Solvers are lower than would be a responsible deal,” Hoyer said on a press call. “There are a lot of objectives that I think the Republicans have simply ignored. The Problem Solvers addressed some of them and I think that’s useful and we need to move forward with that in mind.”

Eight powerful Democratic committee chairs also weighed in, saying the Problem Solvers’ plan “falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy.” The chairs, all allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the House-passed Heroes Act provided sufficient funding for things like health care, cities and states, food and rental aid, and direct payments.

“Unfortunately, today’s proposal retreats from these critical policies and fails to respond to additional issues that have emerged since May,” the eight chairs said. “When it comes to bolstering the public health system, supporting state and local governments, and assisting struggling families, the Problem Solvers’ proposal leaves too many needs unmet.”

–Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:54 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Josh Gottheimer Nancy Pelosi Problem Solvers Steny Hoyer Stimulus Tom Reed Unemployment

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