WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to release the GOP’s latest coronavirus aid package on Monday after the proposal, which is expected to include a second round of checks, hit roadblocks within the Republican party last week.
The plan was set to be unveiled last week but was derailed by Republican dissension around what to do with a soon-to-expire $600 unemployment benefit boost.
On Saturday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol extending the unemployment benefit — but reducing it substantially — was a top priority for President Donald Trump. The secretary called the current $600 weekly aid “ridiculous” and a disincentive for people to go back to work. He also promised a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks would be coming in August.
“We’re prepared to move quickly,” Mnuchin said after he and Mark Meadows, the president’s acting chief of staff, spent several hours with GOP staff at the Capitol. He said the president would “absolutely” support the emerging Republican package.
However, that doesn’t mean lawmakers and Trump Administration agree on everything. Meadows said the White House was “looking for clarity” on a “handful” of remaining issues ahead of Monday’s planned unveiling.
“We have an agreement in principle,” he said.
Both Mnuchin and Meadows said earlier Sunday that narrower legislation might need to be passed first to ensure that enhanced unemployment benefits don’t run out for millions of Americans. They cited unemployment benefits, money to help schools reopen, tax credits to keep people from losing their jobs, and lawsuit protections for schools and businesses as priorities.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi panned the Trump administration’s desire to trim an expiring temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. “The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” she said from the Capitol.
McConnell’s plan is expected to carry a price tag of $1 trillion — which was supposed to provide a counter-offer to the Democrats’ $3 trillion bill in an opening bid for negotiations.
McConnell’s CARES Act II, named after the earlier effort, is likely include a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to many Americans, a repeat of the money sent in spring, along with $105 billion to help reopen schools, $25 billion for virus testing and McConnell’s top priority of a liability shield to protect businesses, hospitals and others against COVID-19 lawsuits.
Separately, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units, due to expire at the end of the month, will be extended. “We will lengthen it,” he said, without specifying for how long.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he doesn’t support the GOP legislation as proposed. He argued for lifting taxes and regulations he says are “hammering” small businesses. Cruz also argued for a payroll tax cut, which will not be in the bill. President Donald Trump had insisted on a temporary trim of payroll taxes, but both parties resisted the idea.
Cruz alleged that Pelosi isn’t working to solve either the virus crisis or the economic one.
“Her objectives are shoveling cash at the problem and shutting America down,” he said. “It’s just shoveling money to her friends and not actually solving the problem.”
As of now, direct payments are expected to easily make it through bipartisan negotiations. Trump, Pelosi and McConnell were all in agreement that there should be another round of $1,200 in money for most Americans.
Mnuchin said Saturday the next round of direct payments would be based on the same formula from the earlier aid bill. Then, people making $75,000 or less received the full amount and those making more than $75,000 received less, depending on their income. People earning above $100,000 did not qualify for the payment.
If GOP Senate plan makes it through Congress next week, it’s possible checks could be distributed in mid to late August, according to a report from CNET.
“The president’s preference is to make sure that we send out direct payments quickly so that in August people get more money. There is no question this worked before,” Mnuchin said earlier this week in a CNBC interview.
Lawmakers need to act with some urgency. The Senate is set for a recess after Friday, August 7 that would run through Labor Day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.