Just as Congress seemed to be getting closer to another COVID-19 stimulus package, the White House and Mitch McConnell are threatening to blow it up with new proposals for reduced unemployment payments, no funding for states, and a smaller stimulus check for struggling Americans.
A group of Senate Democrats and Republicans have worked for more than a week on a roughly $900 billion package that includes aid to state and local governments, $300 per week in expanded federal unemployment benefits, and billions for vaccine development and distribution. But now the White House is chiming in. After mostly sitting out the negotiations since the election last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is now pushing for including $600 one-time stimulus checks, according to the New York Times.
That’s the good part. But Mnuchin also reportedly wants the package to cut out the $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits, which were cut from $600 per week in the first CARES Act package to $300 through an executive order when the Senate refused to take up the issue over the summer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement that “the President’s proposal must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway.”
“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,” the two Democrats said. “That is unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, McConnell has suggested he wants to drop both state and local funding from the bill—a top priority for Democrats, given the budget deficits many governments are facing due to declining revenues—as well as the corporate liability shield he’s been pushing for, which would protect businesses from COVID-related lawsuits (such as the one meat producer Tyson Foods is currently facing for gross negligence) for five years.
“We know the new administration is going to be asking for another package,” McConnell said Tuesday. “What I recommend is we set aside liability, and set aside state and local, and pass those things that we agree on, knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year.”
Without further action from Congress, both expanded unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions will expire this month, plunging economically vulnerable people further into crisis.
Schumer rejected the offer, and Democrats slammed McConnell for trying to punt federal aid to state and local governments into the new year. “The same McConnell who said that President Trump is ‘100% within his rights’ to pursue baseless lawsuits alleging election fraud is now refusing to pass urgently-needed relief unless it strips those same rights from the most vulnerable among us,” Rep. Katie Porter of California said in a fiery Twitter thread.
McConnell, for his part, has continued to accuse the Democrats of “all-or-nothing tactics.” But the House initially passed a $3.4 trillion COVID stimulus in May, then another $2.2 trillion bill in October. They now seem prepared to accept less than a trillion dollars in order to get a short-term relief bill passed through the Senate and signed into law.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and one of the lead negotiators on the Senate framework, told reporters Tuesday that a section-by-section summary of the proposal could be released Wednesday. Manchin was also critical of McConnell.
“He started out with $1.1 trillion in July and came back after the August recess, which we should have never taken, and dropped it down to $500 billion,” Manchin said. “I don’t think you deal in good faith that way.”