Republicans battle over COVID-19 package's big price tag

Republican lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' Overnight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal MORE (R-Ky.) want to keep the price tag of the next round of coronavirus relief legislation at $1 trillion, but that is looking like it will be a challenge.

The variety of proposals now being pushed by the Trump administration, GOP lawmakers and Democrats could easily push the new coronavirus relief bill beyond the $2 trillion mark, lawmakers and aides acknowledge.

McConnell is trying to get out in front of what he fears could turn into spending smorgasbord by trying to set a firm cap on the size of the package, according to Republican senators who attended a Tuesday briefing by the GOP leader and senior administration officials.

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But he’s drawing fire from conservatives within his ranks.

“It’s already spiraled out of control,” Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham says FBI chief 'committed to being helpful' after Trump criticism Trump hits FBI Director Wray: 'I wish he was more forthcoming' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance MORE (R-Wis.) said after GOP senators met with White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Pelosi: COVID talks will resume when GOP offers T MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations MORE and National Economic Council Director Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE to discuss the upcoming proposal.

Johnson said that “it just boggles my mind” that fellow Republicans think of a $1 trillion package as “real fiscal constraint” when the federal debt is more than $26 trillion and the deficit for 2020 is projected to hit $3.8 trillion.

The message from the GOP leader is that lawmakers will have to pick and choose among their top priorities and not simply cram in all that they can to ensure speedy passage of a bill that pleases everyone.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Ind.) said McConnell is pushing a $1 trillion cap on the new bill.

“That’s the figure we’d be looking at. The leader’s thrown that out there. I think that anything beyond that you’re going to get a lot of different Republicans finding a way [to say] that they can’t buy into it,” he said.

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But the debate over what to include in the legislation and what to set aside is already opening up divisions between the White House and GOP lawmakers and within the Senate Republican Conference.

The disagreements will make it tough to meet Mnuchin's goal of passing a bill by the end of the month, when beefed up unemployment benefits are due to expire. 

And fiscal conservatives including Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFiorina: Biden picking Harris for VP 'a smart choice' Russian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report After trillions in tax cuts for the rich, Republicans refuse to help struggling Americans MORE (R-Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWatchdog calls for probe into Gohmert 'disregarding public health guidance' on COVID-19 Massie plans to donate plasma after testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies After trillions in tax cuts for the rich, Republicans refuse to help struggling Americans MORE (R-Ky.), Johnson and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Republicans battle over COVID-19 package's big price tag MORE (R-Wyo.) are balking at the $1 trillion price target.

“We cannot use the crisis to justify opening the spending floodgates and borrowing from future generations to fund nonemergency priorities,” Enzi said on the Senate floor immediately after the lunch.

“I don’t know how we’re going to pay for what we got already,” Enzi said after the speech. “One of the new mechanisms here is, ‘I’ll give you everything you want if you give me everything I want,’ and that’s considered compromise,” he added.  

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE wants a payroll tax cut and $1,200 direct stimulus checks, while GOP lawmakers want to focus on funding for reopening schools, more money for advanced testing and some measure of enhanced unemployment benefits as well as employment-targeted tax incentives.

Some GOP lawmakers, led by Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE (R-La.), also want to provide more relief to cash-strapped state and local governments.

McConnell said Tuesday morning that Republicans want to include another round of direct payments in the bill, but the idea ran into opposition during the lunch meeting.

“There was some support and some opposition, both, to the direct payments,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynEnough legal games — we need to unleash American energy Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE (R-Texas).

Cornyn said critics in the GOP conference argue that stimulus checks made more sense when Congress passed the CARES Act in March “when people literally were not getting paid” because of rolling quarantines. He said they make less sense now as workers return to their jobs or collect unemployment insurance.

The first round of stimulus checks included in the CARES Act was estimated to cost nearly $300 billion.

Some Republican senators argue that more discipline has to be exerted over what proposals are allowed in the bill, unlike the frenzied debate before the Senate passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which was slapped together over a few days.

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“Somebody did raise the point that to stay under a trillion dollars you’re going to be limited on how many things you can do,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE (R-N.D.) after the lunch. “If you set a top-line number or a ceiling of a trillion, you’re going to be limited on how many $1,200 checks you send out and how much of a payroll tax cut you can provide. You might have to pick one.”

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyDunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show MORE (R-Pa.) compares another round of stimulus checks to loading up a “money cannon.”

At the same time, senior administration officials have pushed back against some Senate GOP proposals such as $25 billion in new funding for testing and $10 billion in new money for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration and GOP lawmakers are also at odds over how much to spend to help colleges and schools reopen.

Meadows has said the GOP legislation will include $70 billion to help schools cope with thee coronavirus, while McConnell has pegged the figure at $105 billion.

One of the negotiators, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal COVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Mo.), told reporters Tuesday that the White House has shifted closer to the Senate GOP position on testing but that more work needs to be done on the topic.

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Democrats, meanwhile, want nearly $1 trillion just in aid to state and local governments. They are rallying around a House-passed proposal that would cost $3 trillion.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn the next relief package Congress must fund universal COVID testing Ocasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech New poll shows Markey with wide lead over Kennedy in Massachusetts MORE (N.Y.) said after meeting with administration officials Tuesday afternoon that they want to see the joint White House-Senate Republican proposal before starting to negotiate.  

"The Republican Senate Conference hasn’t come to an agreement, and the president and the Senate conference hasn’t come to an agreement. So we’re waiting for a bill and we will roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Schumer told reporters after the meeting.

The clamoring for different high-priced priorities is already causing discord within the Senate GOP conference.

Paul slammed Republican colleagues after Tuesday’s lunch for gearing up to pass another huge relief bill.

“The majority of Republicans are now no different than socialist Democrats when it comes to debt. They simply don’t care about debt and are preparing to add at least another trillion dollars in debt this month, combined with the trillions from earlier this summer,” Paul tweeted.