VICE, EMMA OCKERMAN
Thanks to bitter partisan rancor and an upcoming presidential election to worry about, it seems incredibly unlikely that Congress will come together and pass the sort of sweeping stimulus package that’s needed to save many American households from a financial meltdown.
But the House Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan, centrist group of 50 lawmakers — is at least trying to broker a compromise before stopgap solutions, including weekly $300 checks for certain unemployed workers, run completely dry.
The group unveiled a $1.5 trillion proposal Tuesday for coronavirus relief, which could ratchet up to $2 trillion if the pandemic grows worse. The package would, among other measures, would schedule a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks and restore expanded unemployment benefits at $450 a week for two months, and up to $600 per week after that so long as the benefits don’t exceed the worker’s prior paychecks, according to Politico.
That could provide a crucial lifeline to millions of out-of-work Americans, some of whom are currently unable to access the temporary $300 emergency unemployment benefit and have gone without any sort of supplemental aid since Congress allowed the $600 weekly unemployment benefit to lapse in late July.
Members of the caucus, led by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Republican Rep. Tom Reed, have privately acknowledged that their plan is unlikely to go anywhere, according to the New York Times. But the proposal’s introduction might nonetheless hint at the brewing frustration among politicians that Congressional leadership has so far been unable to agree on something while people and businesses alike are running out of cash in a pandemic-ravaged economy, just before an anticipated resurgence of COVID-19.
So far, the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House have so far only issued doomed proposals that are dramatically far apart in cost and intention. But with their proposal Tuesday, the moderate legislators attempted to incorporate measures from both parties’ plans..
For example, their package included $25 billion for rental and mortgage assistance, a far cry from the $100 billion-plus that Democrats and affordable housing advocates had called for, but better than nothing. It would also allocate $100 billion toward COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and other health care proposals. And it’d pledge $500 billion to flailing state and local governments, according to Politico.
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, said on CNBC Tuesday morning that deal talks may have to happen after the Nov. 3 election, although he hoped a deal could be reached.
“What we wanted to demonstrate is that it can be done,” Reed, a New York legislator, said during a news conference unveiling the bipartisan proposal Tuesday.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said Tuesday that it was more important to focus on what the funding supports, rather than getting stuck on the price tag.
Sen. Mitch McConnell recently pushed a $650 billion “skinny” relief package that would’ve continued the $300 checks through the end of the year and created legal protections for businesses while forgoing rent relief or new stimulus checks. Democrats deemed the GOP proposal “emaciated” before it was blocked in the Senate last week.
“I wish I could tell you we’re going to get another package,” McConnell said on Friday, according to Bloomberg News. “But it doesn’t look that good right now.”
Republicans and the White House have previously expressed willingness to negotiate a package somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.3 trillion, which is still at least $1 trillion off from what Democrats have offered in their cheapest proposals.
House Democrats passed a longshot $3.4 trillion package in May that the White House immediately threatened to veto. Democratic leadership has since been adamant on continuing, not cutting, the extra $600 weekly benefit that was brought about by March’s bipartisan CARES Act. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in August that Democrats would be willing to negotiate down to $2.2 trillion to get a deal passed.
“Democrats are willing to resume negotiations once Republicans start to take this process seriously. Lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy are at stake,” Pelosi said in an Aug. 27 statement, issued after she spoke with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.