Hopes for quick coronavirus stimulus deal break down
Hopes for a quick bipartisan deal on a massive stimulus package quickly unraveled on Sunday as lawmakers remain deadlocked on several key provisions.
A meeting between the four congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to break the stalemate as Democrats voiced concern that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to jam them with a bill they have not signed off on.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said as he left the meeting that they did not have a deal.
“We continue to talk,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the meeting that House Democrats would offer their own stimulus package that she hoped would be “compatible” with the Senate’s package.
“I don’t know about Monday but we’re still talking,” Pelosi told reporters, referring to the preferred GOP timeline for passing a bill.
The impasse comes as the Senate will hold a first procedural vote at 3 p.m., where bipartisan support will be needed to move forward.
Democrats will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss their strategy. McConnell has given no indication that he will delay the vote, potentially forcing Democrats to either move forward with the GOP leader’s plan or block the bill from advancing. Schumer did not say as he left the meeting if Democrats would allow the bill to move forward.
McConnell told reporters after the meeting that he would move forward as planned with the scheduled 3 p.m. procedural vote, and still wants to pass a stimulus package on Monday. He described the talks as “very close,” but acknowledged that people were still “elbowing and maneuvering for room.”
“Now we’re at a point in the discussion where people will shortly have to say yes or no,” McConnell said.
Negotiators have been in around-the-clock negotiations on the stimulus package, which is expected to cost between $1.5 and $2 trillion.
Both McConnell and Schumer appeared optimistic as they left the Capitol on Saturday evening that there would be a bipartisan deal.
But that feeling quickly soured as Republicans moved forward with drafting the legislation without Democratic support. GOP senators and White House aides say the bill is written to include bipartisan agreement where negotiators were able to reach it. In instances where they weren’t, Republicans say they wrote the provisions in a way that they hoped could win bipartisan support.
Democrats accused Republicans of walking away from talks and putting provisions in the bill that they know Democrats could not support.
A source familiar with the GOP bill text said Republicans are “refusing to add strong worker protections” and have included language requiring companies keep employees “to the extent possible.”
Democrats worry the language is vague enough that corporations could take federal help and still fire workers. Democrats also wanted strong restrictions on corporations who take federal help, but the source said the GOP bill included “very weak” stock buyback restrictions that could be waived by Mnuchin.
The GOP bill, according to the source, also increases a “corporate bail out fund” to $500 billion. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) had pushed to increase the $208 billion proposed in the original GOP plan to ensure distressed industries have access to capital.
A Democratic aide confirmed the change, characterizing the bill as currently drafted as a “non-starter.”
“We can not stop Republicans and the Trump administration from behaving irresponsibly, but we can block irresponsible legislation that is a giveaway to Trump’s favored industries at the expense of working Americans,” the aide added.
A Democratic aide said that the small business provision was drafted to exclude non-profits who receive Medicaid from being eligible for Small Business Administration assistance offered under the bill. That, according to the aide, would impact Planned Parenthood but also community health centers, rape crisis centers and disability service providers.
There are broad areas of agreement that reflects the breakneck pace of negotiations this week.
In a win for Democrats the bill will provide $250 billion to expand unemployment insurance. It gives $350 billion for small businesses that will cover 58 million American workers and more than 30 million small businesses, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted on Sunday.
Mnuchin also said during a “Fox News Sunday” interview that the bill will provide an “average direct deposit or check for a family of four will be approximately $3,000 — a bridge for them to get through this quickly.”
McConnell defended his process during a press conference after the Sunday meeting, noting that they had worked several Democratic ideas into the bill.
“What we intend to do here in the Senate is to move forward with the Senate bill. I’m hopeful and optimistic that we will get bipartisan support because this bill has been negotiated on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said.
He added that it would “best for the country” if the House took up the Senate bill.
Mnuchin was equally optimistic during his interview Fox News on Sunday saying he “hoped” the bill could pass the Senate on Monday.
“We need to get the money into the economy now. If we do that, we think we can stabilize the economy,” he added. “I think the president has every expectation that this is going to look a lot better four or eight weeks from now.”