Stimulus checks: hours left to reduce direct payments by $ 1,200 before election day

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Congress has just a few hours left to provide more coronavirus relief ahead of the election, with the differences between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her Republican rivals in the Senate and President Donald Trump proving to be lasting despite the crying needs of the country.

Important differences remain over an informal deadline set by Pelosi for Tuesday if the talks are to result in the handing over of legislation to Trump before the election.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows hit the airwaves Monday to deliver an optimistic assessment to markets and promise larger upfront payments for families than the $ 1,200 per adult and $ 500 per child that were delivered this spring – even though his GOP allies tossed the idea overboard.

“We remain committed to negotiating and ensuring that we get a deal as quickly as possible,” Meadows told Fox News. “If Nancy Pelosi is reasonable, she will find the President of the United States reasonable, and we’ll have something to cross the finish line. “

According to several reports, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon.

Trump’s GOP allies are convening the Senate again this week for a vote on a virus proposal that is about a third the size of a measure negotiated by Pelosi and the White House. But the Senate GOP bill has failed once before, and Trump himself says it’s too puny. The debate promises to bring a good dose of posture and political game, but hardly more.

A procedural tally on a stand-alone renewal of business subsidies for the bipartisan paycheck protection program is slated for Tuesday in a vote that could spark a democratic divide but is unlikely to advance legislation.

Even the Senate’s greatest architect, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., Doesn’t claim this week’s vote will get the ball rolling. Once the measure fails, he plans to draw the chamber’s full attention to consolidating a conservative 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court by upholding Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Against this backdrop, this week’s action has the main benefit of giving Republicans in tough re-election races one last chance to try and show voters they prioritize COVID relief – and to argue with voters as Democrats are the ones who stand in the way.

“It was important to let the American people know before the election – not after – that we weren’t in favor of a standoff, that we were not in favor of doing nothing,” McConnell said at the meeting. an appearance in Kentucky last week.

McConnell is resurrecting a $ 650 billion measure that would provide second paycheck relief, add $ 300 a week in extra unemployment benefits and help schools and universities reopen. It contains no funding for the states and local governments that Democrats want and ignores Trump’s request for another round of larger direct payments.

The latest coronavirus relief plan, the bipartisan $ 1.8 trillion CARES law, was passed in March by an overwhelming margin as the economy stalled amid fear and uncertainty about the virus. Since then, Trump and many of his GOP allies have focused on easing social and economic restrictions as a key to recovery instead of more taxpayer-funded aid.

Trump has been anything but consistent. He now insists lawmakers should “go big” with a bill of up to $ 2 trillion or more, a total reversal after dropping talks earlier this month. But Trump’s political issues do not sway Senate Republicans.

“He’s talking about a much larger amount than what I can sell to my members,” McConnell said.

The House Democrats’ most recent bill is worth $ 2.4 trillion, or more than $ 2.6 trillion if you exclude a $ 246 billion business tax hike that is unlikely to happen. ‘be accepted by the GOP. The package is a non-starter with Senate Republicans and McConnell arguing for a more targeted approach well south of $ 1 trillion.

The timing is also difficult for Pelosi. For months, she pledged a more than $ 2 trillion COVID relief plan stuffed with Obama-era stimulus ideas. Even though the Senate and the White House are both in the hands of the GOP – and will be at least until January – she strongly pushed back against anyone who suggests Democrats should strike a smaller deal now rather than risk returning home. them empty-handed until next year.

Taking a smaller bill now would likely require Pelosi to forgo tax cuts for the working poor and accept a much smaller aid package for states and local governments. But it would also mean that the relief would immediately go to millions of workers whose extra unemployment benefits were cut this summer.

When an aid bill is finally passed may depend on the outcome of the election.

If Trump loses, Congress will likely falter through an unproductive lame duck session comparable to the abridged session after Obama-Biden’s decisive victory in 2008 or the 2016 session that handed most of his remains to the Trump administration. . This scenario would push virus aid until 2021.

The delays in coronavirus aid come as the recovery from this spring’s economic shutdown slows and the massive stimulus effects of March’s $ 1.8 trillion relief measure wear off. COVID cases are on the rise again ahead of another pandemic wave this winter. Poverty is on the rise and the virus continues to wreak disproportionate havoc in minority communities.

“If Congress does not act, the next administration will inherit a real mess,” said Harvard economist Jason Furman, former senior Obama adviser. “Economic problems tend to feed on themselves.” He is part of the Democratic camp who prefers a flawed stimulus now rather than a bigger package in about four months.

Instead, if history repeats itself, COVID relief will likely be the first major item to come out next year, but it’s not even clear then that it will be as important as Democrats hope. .

“Pelosi decided in July that the political advantages of the next package would flow to the president and therefore would set out the most aggressive terms possible,” said veteran GOP representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who predicts Pelosi has won. “Unless they’re prepared to break the filibuster for a $ 3 trillion bailout for the Blue States.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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