WASHINGTON – Quickly starting negotiations with days to spare, the White House on Tuesday offered Democrats a $ 916 billion pandemic stimulus proposal that would meet their demand to relieve state and local governments and include corporate liability protections that have been a top priority for Republicans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s offer to President Nancy Pelosi was the first time since the November election that the Trump administration has directly engaged in talks on Capitol Hill on how to support the economy by decline of the country. It came as lawmakers rushed to reach agreement on another round of coronavirus relief before concluding this year’s session, which is now set to take place next week.
The plan does not include a stimulus proposal for enhanced unemployment benefits of $ 300 per week, although it would extend other federal unemployment programs that will expire in the coming weeks. Instead, it would include another smaller round of direct payments to Americans, amounting to $ 600 per person.
The initial $ 2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March handed out a series of $ 1,200 stimulus checks and set the improved unemployment benefits to $ 600 per week through July, which President Trump then issued. extended to $ 300 per week for most workers. The proposal presented by Mr. Mnuchin would not deal with the expired benefit and would halve the single payment.
“The president’s proposal must not be allowed to stand in the way of ongoing bipartisan congressional talks,” said Ms Pelosi and New York City Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, in a statement, calling for cuts to be cut. UI benefits on an “unacceptable” $ 180 billion to $ 40 billion proposal.
In a statement released after his conversation with the speaker on Tuesday, Mr Mnuchin provided few details other than his intention to partially offset the cost of the package by reusing $ 429 billion of funds from previous legislation and using unspent funds from a popular federal program. for small businesses that expired this year.
The proposal emerged as a bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers came together virtually to work out a deal on the details of its $ 908 billion compromise plan. It was not clear how Mr Mnuchin’s proposal would affect discussions on this package, which on Tuesday Democratic leaders said “are the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”
The two arrangements Mr Mnuchin chose as part of his offer – what he called “robust” liability protections for businesses, schools and hospitals, and funds for state and local governments – were the main sticking points in the efforts to reach a compromise.
The administration’s proposal also included funds for the distribution of vaccines and the re-launch of the paycheck protection program, the small business loan program.
“This is a very good offer,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and Minority Leader, who, along with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Majority Leader, was briefed on the plan by Mr. Mnuchin and Mark Meadows, the House Chief of Staff. “It focuses on the things that need to be there.”
Earlier on Tuesday, McConnell indicated he was open to a deal, leaving the possibility of removing both the accountability provision and the funding of state and local governments. He argued that dropping top priorities from both sides could make it easier to reach a smaller deal on funding vaccine distribution, schools and small businesses.
“We know the new administration is going to ask for another package,” McConnell said Tuesday, offering implicit recognition of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. “What I recommend is to put aside the responsibility, and to put aside the state and the local communities, and to pass on the things that we agree on, knowing full well that we will come back to it after the first of the year. ”
The idea amounted to the first major concession in months from Mr McConnell, who had previously called legal protections a “red line” in stimulus talks. But Democrats scoffed at this, after insisting for months that any stimulus deal include funds to support state and local governments that have lost hundreds of billions of dollars during the pandemic and face cuts. devastating budgets. Republicans have called the provision a “blue state bailout”, although state officials on both sides have been pushing for further relief.
“He is sabotaging good faith bipartisan negotiations because his partisan ideological effort is not being well received,” Schumer said. In her own statement, Ms Pelosi said that “Chief McConnell’s efforts to undermine good faith bipartite negotiations are appalling.”
Mr Schumer said the Democrats’ proposals for funding state and local governments had “broad bipartisan support,” unlike Mr McConnell’s accountability proposal. The measure would provide five years of legal protection against coronavirus-related lawsuits for businesses, schools, hospitals and non-profits that make “reasonable efforts” to comply with government standards.
But many Democrats have rejected what Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, called “a jailbreak card for companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk.” And while Mr McConnell has warned of a wave of lawsuits related to the pandemic, economic data shows there have been a relatively small number so far.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers discuss accountability guarantees in its overview of the $ 908 billion compromise, as well as how to allocate the $ 160 billion currently earmarked for state and local governments. But after unveiling a preview this month, the group are yet to complete the text.
“I hope we can come to an agreement,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told reporters when asked about McConnell’s suggestion. “If we can’t, then I see some logic in adopting what we agree with, given that there is widespread support for another round of P3s, helping our schools, our providers. health care, providing more money for testing and vaccine distribution. “
Leaders on both sides agreed that some form of relief must be approved before Congress leaves at the end of the year, and work to tie it into a catch-all public spending program. Lawmakers and aides are still working to resolve a number of outstanding issues in the dozen must-see bills that keep the government fully funded.
Both houses are expected to approve a weeklong interim bill in the coming days to avoid the government shutdown on Friday and give negotiators more time.
Reporting was contributed by Luke broadwater, Nicolas fandos, Jim tankersley and Alan rappeport.