Republicans to start unveiling coronavirus package Thursday

Senate Republicans are set to start unveiling at least part of their forthcoming coronavirus relief proposal on Thursday. 

The package will not be one bill, but instead be broken up into several bills, according to Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, with the goal of releasing them all on Thursday. 

"I think what the leader has decided he wants to do is to have a handful of bills now instead of just one bill," Blunt told reporters on Wednesday evening. 

ADVERTISEMENT

He added that it's possible a release on some portions of the bill could split past Thursday, but "the goal is tomorrow to get all of those bills out there." 

Republicans have been negotiating amongst themselves and with the White House as they try to craft an agreement on what they view as an opening offer for talks on a fifth coronavirus package. 

"So far we've had a rational discussion. Nobody's stabbed anybody or anything," said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.).

They reached an agreement on part of that Wednesday night dealing with money for schools and testing. Senators involved in those talks said they would be releasing legislative text on Thursday. 

As part of the agreement, the White House and Senate Republicans agreed to $16 billion in new funding for testing and re-focusing another $9 billion in unspent funds from the March $2.2 trillion bill toward testing. 

For schools, they agreed to a total of $105 billion, including $70 billion for K-12 and $30 billion for colleges. Only half of the K-12 funding will be tied to schools holding in-person or hybrid classes, while the money for colleges would not be tied to in-person classes. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"We'll have a package tomorrow for you," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters about the portion of the bill that he has been negotiating on with Blunt, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.), Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 MORE

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) previously told reporters on Tuesday that he would be releasing the GOP coronavirus proposal in a "few days," an indication that he was planning to release it this week. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-S.D.), McConnell's No. 2, told reporters that he expected the GOP measure will be released this week. The Senate typically leaves town on Thursdays. 

The total price tag for all of the bills is expected to be around $1 trillion. McConnell has indicated that he wants to keep the cost of the bill down, but even that figure has sparked fierce criticism from members of his caucus. 

Several parts of the forthcoming GOP proposal are already taking shape. 

The GOP measure is also expected to include a five-year shield from lawsuits related to coronavirus infections unless an entity — like a business, school, government agency or hospital — was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct. 

It isn't expected to include new funding for state and local governments — a big priority for Democrats and a small group of Republican senators — but instead provide more flexibility for the $150 billion already appropriated in the March coronavirus package. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (R-Fla.) said on Wednesday they will also use roughly $100 billion in unspent money to fund a second tranche of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. But he caveated that they hadn't "settled" yet on how much additional money the program could need. 

But two of the biggest sticking points — what to do about unemployment benefits and whether or not to include a payroll tax cut — remain undecided. 

As part of the March bill, Congress beefed up unemployment benefits by $600 per week. That's set to expire next week, adding pressure on lawmakers to quickly reach an agreement. 

But ideas being tossed around the GOP caucus range from cutting the $600 entirely, to scaling down the plus up or trying to tie it to a person's previous wages. 

GOP senators on Wednesday floated doing a short-term extension to provide a bridge between the expiration of the current benefits to Congress's next bill, but the idea was shot down by top White House officials and senior GOP senators.  

ADVERTISEMENT

And GOP senators left a closed-door lunch on Wednesday saying there had been no decision on including the payroll tax cut, which is a top priority for President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE

Administration officials and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyAfter police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi Capitol Police asked to arrest the maskless 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Calif.) said earlier this week that they thought it was in the forthcoming proposal. 

But several GOP senators have warned that in order to keep the GOP top-line around $1 trillion, they might have to pick between another round of stimulus checks, which McConnell favors, or including the payroll tax cut. 

Thune noted that while the checks have their own detractors within the caucus, overall they have more support than a payroll tax cut. 

“There are people who aren’t for the checks either, but my sense is ... there’s not much, I would say, support for the payroll-tax cut,” Thune said. “There is considerable support for stimulus checks if we’re going to do something on an individual, personal level.”