Five sticking points to a $1T coronavirus deal
Washington is racing to reach a deal on a roughly $1 trillion stimulus package amid growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the economy.
Bipartisan talks officially got underway on Friday as staff, senators and administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, met behind closed doors for hours.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants a deal in principle by the end of Friday, with final passage of an agreement early next week.
The talks are largely confined to the Senate, raising questions about the deal’s chances in the Democratic House.
Mnuchin has been in touch with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) throughout the week, including Friday. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the two Democratic leaders are “speaking constantly.”
Multiple sticking points remain as staffers scramble behind closed doors. Here are five to watch:
The Senate GOP plan provides $1,200 in a one-time check for Americans who make up to $75,000 annually. But that provision has sparked criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
GOP critics such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants to use expanded unemployment insurance instead of the direct cash assistance, calling the checks “wasted money.”
Democrats also believe Americans need more than a one-time check and are pushing to “dramatically expand” unemployment insurance, amid predictions that the unemployment numbers are set to skyrocket.
On Friday, members debated whether the states could move quickly enough to make expanded unemployment a viable option.
Meanwhile, Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) want to change the cash assistance provision to “fix” language that, according to a GOP summary of the bill, would result in individuals with little or no tax liability getting a smaller check — a minimum of $600 per individual.
Hawley said on Friday that he had raised the issue with his caucus.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said after another round of negotiations that the question of how to provide funding for hospitals was a sticking point.
Democrats are pushing to ramp up support for hospitals and other pillars of the healthcare system as part of a “Marshall Plan.”
Schumer, discussing the idea from the Senate floor, raised concerns that hospitals could be overwhelmed with a ramp up of coronavirus cases, while also facing shortages of gloves and masks as well as swabs for testing.
“We’re short of supplies up and down the line: it’s masks, it’s protective clothing and gear, it’s beds and it’s doctors and nurses themselves. We have to do more,” he said.
According to a spokesman Schumer raised the idea of a “Marshall Plan” during a call with Trump on Friday including “massive federal investments” geared toward boosting hospital capacity and supply shortages.
Thune said the proposal had come up during the meetings and lawmakers “realize we’re going to have to some things to help out providers.”
Democrats are raising concerns that the Republican bill is overly focused on corporations, not individual workers.
The Senate GOP bill provides more than $200 billion in collateralized loans: $50 billion for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo air carriers and up to $150 billion for other “eligible entities” that have “incurred losses as a direct result.”
It would also suspend certain aviation taxes through the end of the year.
Schumer has blasted the proposal, calling it “too skewed in favor of corporations” and saying it includes “a few ideas that should not be included at all, such as tax cuts for multinational corporations.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added on Twitter that “call me crazy but I just don’t think corporate tax cuts and no strings attached industry bailouts are where we should be putting our money right now.”
Democrats have unveiled their own guidelines for what industries should have to guarantee in order to receive help.
Under a plan unveiled by Schumer, businesses would face “strict requirements” including “keeping workers in their jobs and labor protections.” Schumer’s plan also requires that “rescued businesses” provide mandatory sick leave and a $15 minimum wage.
Paid sick leave
Democrats want to use the third coronavirus package to expand paid sick leave.
The second bill provided up to 10 days of paid sick leave for individuals at companies with fewer than 500 employees. It also allowed businesses with fewer than 50 people to request a waiver from the requirement.
But the Senate GOP bill would place restrictions on paid sick leave and paid family leave.
The bill “creates a limitation stating an employer shall not be required to pay more than $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate for sick leave or more than $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate to care for a quarantined individual or child for each employee under this section,” according to a GOP summary of the bill.
Democrats slammed the bill for adding restrictions, and instead are pushing for the proposal to expand paid sick leave.
Schumer urged Trump during a phone call on Friday to support expanding paid sick leave. The president, according to a Schumer spokesman, said he would look into it.
One proposal unveiled by Democrats would include 14 days of paid sick leave for a public health emergency, 12 weeks of emergency paid family and medical leave as well as permanently requiring seven paid sick days and enacting a permanent paid family and medical leave program.
White House supplemental
In addition to the mammoth stimulus package, Congress is also looking at a $45.8 billion request from White House Budget Chief Russ Vought, who said the additional funding is needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The request has emerged as a sticking point between Republicans, who want to deal with it after the third coronavirus bill, and Democrats, who want to fold it into the massive stimulus package.
Asked Friday if Democrats were pushing to move them as one package, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) added: ‘“We need to be doing all of this. We can’t get into bureaucracy here.”
McConnell indicated during a floor speech this week that he would keep the two issues separate.
“We know this legislation will not be the last word. Bipartisan, bicameral talks are already underway to act on the administration’s request for supplemental appropriations,” he said on Thursday.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he was currently in discussions with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) about the potential that they merge the supplemental request and the stimulus package.
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