Pelosi, Schumer hit Trump but cite ‘progress’ in COVID relief talks
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Tuesday evening criticized what they deemed presidential obstruction on COVID-19 relief talks while emphasizing “progress” in negotiations after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signed off on a new, bigger relief proposal.
Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement that negotiations by a bipartisan group of Senate and House members — which the new $916 billion offer put forward by the White House is based on — should be allowed to continue without interference, even as they highlighted McConnell’s support for such a proposal.
“While it is progress that Leader McConnell has signed off on a $916 billion offer that is based off of the bipartisan framework, the president’s proposal must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan congressional talks that are underway,” the Democratic leaders said. “The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”
Pelosi and Schumer issued their statement after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made a new offer to Pelosi in a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
Mnuchin’s $916 billion proposal included money for state and local governments — a top priority of Democrats — as well as liability protection for businesses, schools and universities, a top McConnell priority.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) praised Mnuchin’s plan.
“It focuses on the things that needs to be there,” said McCarthy, who explained that Mnuchin’s plan would provide $600 payments to individuals, half of the $1,200 payments proposed in the House Democrats’ HEROES Act.
McCarthy explained that adults earning up to a certain amount would get up to $600 as would children. The budget impact would be approximately $160 billion, he said.
“We have money in there for the virus [vaccine] distribution, you’ve got small-business PPP expanded within there,” he added, referring to funding for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
McCarthy said the White House proposal is “a much better product” because it includes stronger liability protection provisions for businesses than the bipartisan plan unveiled last week by Senate and House moderates.
The White House plan revives the idea of a new round of direct payments to people earning up to $99,000, a proposal that appeared dead hours earlier when senior Senate Republicans said it would be difficult to send out more checks without raising the cost of a relief package above their target of $1 trillion.
Pelosi and Schumer warned, however, that the White House plan would cut too much from the unemployment insurance program to make room for direct checks.
“The president’s proposal starts by cutting the unemployment insurance proposal being discussed by bipartisan members of the House and Senate from $180 billion to $40 billion. That is unacceptable,” the leaders said.
The Senate-House centrists’ compromise proposal took fire earlier in the day from Senate Democratic liberals who said it fell too short of the $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act, which passed in March.
“Unlike the CARES Act, which we passed in March, this proposal only provides a $300 supplement for unemployed workers rather than $600 a week,” Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and four of their Democratic colleagues wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday.
Mnuchin said in a statement that he presented the White House plan on behalf of President Trump in a 5 p.m. phone call with Pelosi Tuesday.
“As part of this proposal, we will fund it using $140 billion in unused funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and $429 billion in Treasury funds,” he said, adding that he “reviewed” the proposal with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, McConnell and McCarthy.
“I look forward to achieving bipartisan agreement so we can provide this critical economic relief to American workers, families and businesses,” he said.
Mnuchin delivered the new White House offer shortly after McConnell told reporters after the Tuesday GOP Senate GOP conference lunch that negotiators should drop two of the most contentious issues from the new relief package: liability protection for businesses and other organizations and new federal funding for state and local governments.
“What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local and pass those things we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this at the first of the year,” he said shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Schumer, however, shot down that idea.
“Sen. McConnell has put the jobs of firefighters, ambulance workers, sanitation officers, police officers in jeopardy. Every governor and mayor across the country has been fighting to keep these people working and McConnell is pulling the rug out from under them,” the Democratic leader told reporters an hour later.