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 Blunt (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. 

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 Kennedy (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. 

“We’ll have a package tomorrow for you,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (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 Alexander (R-Tenn.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Thune (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 Rubio (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.  

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 Trump. 

Administration officials and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (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.”

Tags CARES Act Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump John Kennedy John Thune Kevin McCarthy Lamar Alexander Marco Rubio Mark Meadows Mitch McConnell Richard Shelby Roy Blunt Steven Mnuchin

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