Relief bill’s passage sets off scramble to declare victory, assign blame
The passage of a $900 billion coronavirus relief package after more than seven months of negotiations and recriminations has President Trump and congressional leaders racing to declare victory and blame political opponents for the long delay.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are both touting the bill as a win, despite neither getting their top priorities in the final measure, and pointing the finger at the other side for not striking a deal earlier.
The legislation passed by Congress late Monday night is in many ways similar to the $1.1 trillion HEALS Act that the White House and Senate Republicans introduced in July, though it doesn’t include the liability protections for businesses that McConnell had made a top priority.
Schumer on Monday praised the package, which lacks the $160 billion in new state and local aid previously sought by Democrats, and took shots at McConnell and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) while doing so.
“Thankfully, the agreement we reached contains neither the Leader’s corporate immunity provision nor Sen. Toomey’s last-minute provision to handicap the Fed’s authority to stabilize the economy in a crisis,” he said referring to language requested by the Pennsylvania Republican to unwind the Federal Reserve’s new credit lending facilities set up by the CARES Act in March.
Toomey, however, claimed victory for the bill’s inclusion of a provision clarifying the Fed’s authority. He said the deal achieved his four goals: sweep out $429 billion in unused CARES Act funds allocated for Fed lending and repurpose the money; shut down the four lending facilities; forbid the reopening of those facilities; and ban future iterations of the program.
“I’m very, very pleased with that,” he said Sunday after lawmakers struck a deal.
Meanwhile, moderate Republicans and Democrats who put together a $908 billion compromise at the start of the month argued that their proposal sparked the eventual breakthrough in the months-long negotiations.
“Our consensus bill was the foundation of this final package and we applaud Congressional leadership for finishing what we started,” Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and several others said in a joint statement.
Trump on Monday took a break from his regular tweeting disputing the results of the election to claim credit for the stimulus checks in the relief package.
“‘The President was responsible for those direct payments to Americans in the Covid-19 Relief Bill,’ @kilmeade @foxandfriends,” the president tweeted, citing Fox News host Brian Kilmeade.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday said Democrats, not Trump, deserve credit for the stimulus payments.
“We also have in the legislation direct payments, which were not in the Republican bill – to America’s working families,” she said.
Pelosi also touted inclusion of the Water Resources Development Act, legislation Congress usually passes every several years, in the final deal, calling it “a big jobs bill.”
McConnell on Monday emphasized that the agreement reached over the weekend is close to what the White House and Senate Republicans offered Democratic leaders back in July.
“In July, we proposed to send about $1 trillion to priorities including a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, direct checks for households, and funding for health care providers, testing, and K-12 schools,” he said. “Democrats said no. They said they’d block anything short of their multitrillion-dollar left-wing wish list.”
Republicans argue the deal they reached with Democrats was on the table for much of the year. They say Democrats delayed the process by first insisting on a $3.4 trillion package — far more expensive than GOP lawmakers would accept.
Democrats say that while they believe more relief is needed, they have no choice but to accept a smaller package because of what they describe as McConnell’s stubbornness. They say a smaller relief bill is acceptable partly because they know President-elect Joe Biden will push for more aid once he takes office next month.
Democrats said they had to act now because extended unemployment benefits and aid for workers who don’t ordinarily qualify, such as gig workers, was set to expire later this month.
“Look, people are in desperate need, and at the end of the month they’re going to fall off a lot of cliffs like the end of the unemployment insurance. We think it’s a good stopgap measure, a bridge to get us to the Biden administration,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Both sides are blaming each other for the delay in reaching a deal.
“For months, Senate Republicans have consistently supported a targeted rescue package, under $1 trillion, focused on the same kinds of policies that we have settled on today,” McConnell said Sunday on the Senate floor. “The progress of this past week could have happened in July or in August or in September or in October.”
Schumer on Monday tweeted: “Sen. McConnell seems to have forgotten that for months he put the Senate on pause while Democrats were fighting for action.”
Schumer also took to the Senate floor Monday to push back on McConnell’s claims.
“The Republican leader’s accusation that the blame for this bill’s delay lies totally on one side is just ridiculous. It’s Alice in Wonderland thinking. It defies all the facts as to what we have seen,” the New York senator said.
“His comparison — between the agreement we’re voting on today and the most recent Republican offer — is absurd. The two bills are nothing alike, and I’ve had to point out several times,” he added.
Instead of making reference to the $1.1 trillion HEALS Act, which Republicans unveiled in July and included $1,200 direct stimulus checks, Schumer compared the new package to the slimmed-down $500 billion relief package Senate Republicans floated after the election.
Schumer noted that McConnell’s proposal on Dec. 1 had no money for stimulus checks and no enhanced unemployment benefits other than an extension of expiring benefits through Jan. 31.
He also highlighted other differences, such as funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“This bill has $13 billion in SNAP, the Republican leader’s bill: zero. This bill has $25 billion in rental assistance, the Republican leader’s bill: zero. This bill has $45 billion in transportation for both airlines and mass transit — and buses and airports and highways. What does the Republican leader’s bill have? Zero.”
Republicans argue that Schumer is ignoring the proposal they made with the White House in July and that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made in October.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the new package “bears a remarkable resemblance to what we offered previously,” referring to the HEALS Act.
“We were able to stop some of the spending on state and local that would have benefited states and local jurisdictions that have not been responsible,” he said.
Cornyn noted that Mnuchin offered Pelosi a $1.8 trillion relief proposal before the election, a spending target much closer to the $2.2 trillion updated Heroes Act that House Democrats passed in October.
He said Democrats “turned it down and now they’re accepting half of that.”
The Texas senator noted the new agreement repurposes more than $500 billion in unspent federal funds, keeping the cost down, which was a top GOP priority.
Schumer has seized on the stimulus checks, calling them a major Democratic win, even though Trump insisted they be included in the CARES Act from March, with renewed support from the White House and Senate Republicans in July.
“We’re fighting hard for stimulus checks in this COVID-relief bill. And we believe we’ll get them. The American people need and deserve them. #StimulusChecksNOW,” Schumer tweeted last week.
Schumer also touted the inclusion of energy tax credits — focusing on renewables and efficiency — and authorization of $35 billion in research and development money for the Department of Energy to modernize its innovation programs.
“I am proud that this bill secured significant wins when it comes to combating climate change, including the first ever agreement to phase down hydrofluorocarbons,” he said.