Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship

The next stimulus deal will require extensive negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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.

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 Trump’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 Cornyn (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 Schumer has done on the floor of the Senate,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) told Fox News.

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 Mnuchin 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.

“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.

Schumer said Senate and House Democrats are on the same page because he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are “consulting on everything.”

Sen. Patty Murray (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 Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (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 Rubio (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.

Tags Chuck Schumer Coronavirus Donald Trump economic stimulus Elizabeth Warren John Barrasso John Cornyn Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Patty Murray Sherrod Brown Steven Mnuchin Stimulus Package

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