Senate Republicans, desperate to send a signal to voters that they want to do something about the economy during the pandemic, are preparing a pared-down stimulus bill that’s about half the size of their original $1 trillion proposal from last month.
The bill would include a $300-a-week extended unemployment benefit — half what the Democrats are demanding, plus $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service — a far cry from the $25 billion the Democrats will give the USPS in a bill expected to be passed by Saturday.
Negotiations over a far larger coronavirus relief bill are expected to resume after Labor Day between the White House and top congressional Democrats.
“I’m hoping that we actually can get back together, and in spite of the proximity to the election, put it aside and reach an agreement sometime soon,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday in Manchester, Kentucky.
Democrats are under no pressure whatsoever to get a deal done. The House approved a $3 trillion stimulus bill in April and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been telling the GOP Senate and the White House that they won’t take a dime less.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to pass something so that the several vulnerable Republican senators have something to give the voters.
With Democrats demanding that bargainers piece together a wide-ranging measure, the trimmer package emerging from McConnell and other top Republicans seems to be an effort to show voters what the GOP would favor enacting quickly. With the party’s presidential convention next week, the measure could give Republican senators facing difficult reelection races this fall an opportunity to vote for a relief measure with popular provisions, even though it would probably be blocked by Democrats demanding a more generous bill.
The GOP bill would not include another round of stimulus checks for individuals but would feature $105 billion for education, $16 billion for coronavirus testing, and $29 billion for vaccine development, according to AP.
Meanwhile, McConnell sees an opportunity with Democrats certain to pass a USPS funding bill.
In an interview with The Courier Journal on Tuesday, McConnell said Pelosi and Schumer previously have refused to consider passing a more limited relief package.
But if the House passes a bill focused solely on the Postal Service, that “could open the opportunity for discussion about something smaller than what the speaker and the Democratic Senate leader were insisting on at the point of impasse.”
McConnell would be right if Pelosi and Schumer had any desire at all for a deal. But at this point, it’s not about striking bargains, it’s about scoring political points. There will probably be some desultory negotiations after Labor Day but neither side is desperate for an agreement.
Senate Republicans are hoping that passage of some kind of pandemic relief will take some of the pressure off their more vulnerable colleagues who are fighting for their political lives before the November election.