Senate Republicans will start unveiling their new coronavirus relief bill on Wednesday, although the party remains sharply divided over some of the proposals, including one of President Donald Trump’s top demands.
Senate GOP aides will be briefed on the proposed legislation later Wednesday, according to multiple Republican sources. It’s still unclear, however, whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other party leaders will formally release the legislation on Wednesday.
The proposed legislation is expected to call for a new round of direct payments to Americans but with lower income restrictions; liability protection for schools and businesses as they begin to reopen; billions of dollars in new funds to upgrade state-level coronavirus testing capacity; additional Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses; $105 billion for schools as they seek to restart operations; and a provision to provide flexibility for the use of state aid.
What is still unclear is whether the package will include Trump’s long-sought-after payroll tax cuts — not favored by most Senate Republicans — and how GOP leaders handle extending unemployment insurance.
On the payroll tax cut, Senate Republicans were looking at options to limit who could qualify for the reduction or phasing it in, but Trump is pushing for the full cut, said GOP lawmakers involved in the talks.
Senate Republicans were also weighing how to reduce the cost of the federal payment to unemployed workers. One proposal under consideration would tailor unemployment payments to the state the recipient lives in. This is to address complaints that some unemployed workers are getting more than they earned at their previous jobs.
Senate Republicans are also discussing with the White House a temporary extension of unemployment benefits, according to Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
“I know there are discussions about it but I don’t know what the decision is,” Portman said. “I think we ought to force ourselves to get our work done by the end of next week and be able to do the entire package.”
Millions of newly unemployed Americans have been receiving the additional $600 unemployment payment from the federal government, but that boost starts running out at the end of the week. With a federal eviction moratorium also ending, many Americans could be even more severely affected by the economic slowdown.
McConnell wouldn’t tip his hand when asked Wednesday when he would release the GOP proposal, which is expected to come in at around $1 trillion.
“We’ll let you know,” McConnell said after walking off the Senate floor.
But Democrats have seized on the GOP divisions to blast Trump and the Republicans while pushing the House-passed $3 trillion Heroes Act.
“It’s in the middle of the week, and the Republican Party is so disorganized, chaotic and unprepared that they can barely cobble together a partisan bill in their own conference,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “When Leader McConnell at this crucial moment can’t even mention Covid, it shows what a knot Republicans are tied in.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have been meeting with Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and other senior appropriators to hash out details of the spending portion of the Republican proposal.
The White House duo — along with economic adviser Larry Kudlow — met with the full Senate GOP Conference on Tuesday, and Mnuchin and Meadows also spoke briefly with Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though they didn’t begin negotiations.
Coming out of that closed-door session, some Senate Republicans expressed strong opposition to the soon-to-be-released package, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, among others.
Yet with Trump’s presidency and the Republican majority on the line, McConnell and other Senate leaders are under enormous pressure to offer a proposal. McConnell has termed the GOP effort “a starting line,” knowing he will face challenges from the left and right on the legislation.