Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship

The next stimulus deal will require extensive negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFor city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis Schumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFederal judges should be allowed to be Federalist Society members Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in VA hospitals mostly drop hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus treatment MORE (D-N.Y.) — two lawmakers who don’t have much of a working relationship.

GOP leaders are zeroing in on a massive economic stimulus package that's agreeable to Senate Republicans as a whole, but talks with Democrats are just getting started. That means work on the bill will spill over into next week.

Schumer said on MSNBC Thursday that he expected to begin meeting with McConnell later in the day.

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Whether they can work together will determine both the speed and scope of the multibillion-dollar legislation.

The toxic relationship between the two was on public display almost daily during President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE’s impeachment trial earlier this year. But senators think the leaders can put aside past fights to hash out a deal, despite some major differences between the two parties.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE (R-Texas) said Republicans and Democrats have “always come together” during national crises like the 9/11 attacks.

"We’ll do it again,” he said.

Other Republicans, however, are wary of Schumer’s motives and think he may try to gain a political advantage ahead of the November elections, when Democrats are hoping to win back the Senate.

“It’s disturbing to see [coronavirus] politicized, as Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFederal judges should be allowed to be Federalist Society members Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in VA hospitals mostly drop hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus treatment MORE has done on the floor of the Senate,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (Wyo.) told Fox News.

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McConnell and Schumer will have to bridge their past political animus and quickly find common ground on an array of issues like taxes, health care, small business relief and corporate bailouts. In normal times, such negotiations would take weeks or even months.

The GOP stimulus proposal will call for direct payments to middle-income individuals and families — the centerpiece of Trump’s $1 trillion stimulus plan — as well as $250 billion to $300 billion in relief for small businesses, tens of billions of dollars in loans for the airline industry and an array of health measures, according to lawmakers familiar with the talks.  

Senate Republicans say the direct payments will be modeled on the rebates sent out by the George W. Bush administration in 2008 to mitigate the effect of the financial crisis, payments that were phased out for individuals with income exceeding $75,000 and joint income more than $150,000.

Democrats have different priorities.

Instead of pouring money into direct payments, Democrats say the focus should be on expanding health care resources, beefing up unemployment benefits and freezing student loan payments.

Schumer, who spoke to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Schumer slams Trump's Rose Garden briefing on China as 'pathetic' MORE twice on Wednesday, is warning Republicans that the relief package must be more geared toward helping workers, not bailing out giant corporations.

“If there are going to be some of these corporate bailouts, we need to make sure workers and labor come first. That people are not laid off. That people's salaries are not cut,” Schumer said in a statement about his conversations with Mnuchin.

Schumer noted that U.S. airlines have spent tens of billions of dollars on stock buybacks in recent years. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have spent $12 billion and $11 billion, respectively, on stock buybacks since 2014.

“They have to put their workers first if they’re going to get this help,” Schumer said.

Summing up the Republican and Democratic priorities as the talks start, the Democratic leader said “a lot of them overlap” but added “there are some things that we’re going to want.”

McConnell urged senators on Wednesday night to “stay close” to the Capitol in case there’s a sudden breakthrough, telling colleagues “while we don’t know exactly how long it will take to get this done, everyone knows that we need to do it as quickly as possible.”

But GOP senators say the talks with Democrats are likely to stretch well into next week.

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“I would guess we’re there by next Friday,” said a Republican senator on when Trump might receive the bill.

Republicans want to put the bulk of the stimulus money into direct payments, small-business loans and relief for distressed industries, but Schumer on Thursday called for a massive expansion of health care spending.

“We need a Marshall Plan for the health care industry, particularly our hospitals. There are not enough ventilators,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We don’t have enough beds. Getting the Army Corps of Engineers to build some temporary hospital buildings with beds is very important, as well. We should probably use some of the Veterans Administration beds that are not being used right now,” he added.

Schumer said he would also ask McConnell to “massively expand unemployment insurance” when they sit down to negotiate.

“Right now, unemployment insurance is hard to get, takes a long time to get. You get paid only a fraction of the wages you were paid, and it is not available to large numbers of workers,” he said.

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Schumer said Senate and House Democrats are on the same page because he and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Sunday shows preview: Leaders weigh in as country erupts in protest over George Floyd death 5 things to know about US-China tensions over Hong Kong Pelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' MORE (D-Calif.) are “consulting on everything.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies MORE (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said there had been no outreach from Republicans as of mid-day Wednesday.

“If they put together a partisan package and it can’t pass the House or gets tied up over here, that helps no one,” she said.

Schumer and Murray on Thursday, along with Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in MORE (D-Mass.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Democratic senators urge regulators to investigate Instacart over 'tip baiting' Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-Ohio), unveiled an emergency student loan relief plan that would cancel monthly student loan payments for the duration of the national health emergency. It would also pay down $10,000 in debt for all federal student borrowers.

Republicans and Democrats appear to be closer to agreement on the portion of the stimulus that would aid small businesses.

Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Trump administration designates B of PPP funds for community lenders The Memo: Trump's Scarborough tweets unsettle his allies MORE (R-Fla.) said he is putting together a forgivable loan program for small businesses under which employers would not have to repay any assistance they accept for payroll, business, and rent or mortgage expenses.

Rubio said negotiators are still working out the criteria for what types of businesses will be eligible for the loans but noted that no industry will be excluded.

“It WILL apply to S corp, C corp, non-profits, partnerships, sole practitioners, etc. who meet the expanded criteria for small business. Again, the goal is to be inclusive not exclusive,” Rubio tweeted on Thursday, referring to corporations that fall into different IRS classifications.