Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have all agreed to push for a $600 one-time, individual payment for tens of millions of taxpayers as part of the pandemic relief bill currently being considered in Congress.
But Democrats Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuch Schumer have rejected the proposal, saying it would derail the $916 billion bipartisan measure that Congress has been working on for a week.
“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. Members of the House and Senate have been engaged in good-faith negotiations and continue to make progress. The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.
“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.”
Republicans are trying to shoehorn the individual stimulus payments into the pandemic relief bill by shifting dollars and priorities around. It’s not going to work. The GOP is going to have to increase the size of the bill if they want individual payments. And McConnell is already holding his caucus together by a thread, trying to keep the overall cost of the bill under $1 trillion.
House Minority Leader McCarthy tried to finesse a solution to the current impasse by simply removing the two biggest bones of contention between the two sides: aid for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses against COVID suits.
Republicans have made it clear that there will be no aid to state and local governments if the Democratic governors plan to use the money to pay off past debts and fully fund their broken pension systems. Those problems are unrelated to the pandemic and have no business being addressed by federal pandemic relief aid. Senator McConnell said that it may be possible to address the state and local government funding crisis in a separate bill, but not as part of pandemic relief.
Democrats are balking at a broad liability shield for companies to hide behind when the trial lawyers begin to get busy. Republicans want the shield to protect businesses from suit-happy Americans. The businesses would have to comply with all state and local pandemic protection measures for customers and employees to be eligible.
But Democrats are adamant that there won’t be any bill without substantial aid to state governments.
Less than an hour after McConnell proposed dropping liability protections and state and local aid, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused him of “sabotaging” ongoing bipartisan talks, and several Democrats agreed.
McConnell has long called a liability shield his “red line,” while Democrats have rejected his legislation that hasn’t included state and local assistance. The GOP leader suggested those fights can continue next year, given the likely need for another package, first telling his members in a conference call and then delivering remarks to the press about a possible compromise.
What does all this churning activity add up to? Congress is going to get something done on pandemic relief before Christmas. Both sides have committed to that. There would have to be a major revolt in both parties to prevent it.
But what will be in the bill and how much it will cost remains to be seen.