(Headline USA) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is set to unveil a $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package on Thursday, pushing past a Republican revolt over big spending and differences with the White House as the virus panic worsens.
The package, called CARES II, is made up of separate bills from 10 senators as McConnell seeks to replicate an earlier strategy to launch negotiations with Democrats.
But the path will be tougher this time. GOP senators and President Donald Trump are at odds over priorities, and Democrats say it’s not nearly enough to stem the health crisis, reopen schools and extend aid to jobless Americans.
The Republican leader is expected to deliver a speech shortly after the Senate opens, and then senators will begin rolling out their separate parts of the package, according to a Republican granted anonymity to discuss the plans.
“Very productive meeting,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said while exiting a session late Wednesday at the Capitol.
The centerpiece of the GOP effort remains McConnell’s liability shield to protect businesses, schools and others from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
The package is not expected to provide any new money for cash-strapped blue states and cities, which are clamoring for funds, after recklessly squandering their own funds to provide relief and social programs for illegal immigrants and demanding federal agencies foot the bill for their refusal to follow federal laws and guidelines.
Republicans instead propose giving $105 billion to help schools reopen and $15 billion for child care centers to create safe environments for youngsters during the pandemic.
The $600 weekly unemployment benefit boost that is expiring Friday will be reduced, likely to $200, and ultimately adjusted according to state jobless benefits rates. Many have noted that the boost—beyond what some essential workers would make in wages—offered a disincentive to work.
But some centrist Republicans said they prefer a phased approach.
“We cannot allow there to be a cliff in unemployment insurance given we’re still at about 11% unemployment,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
The bill is likely to be silent on the potential housing crisis as a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units expires in days.
One key holdup in the talks was Trump’s push for a payroll tax cut, according to a Republican granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. Hardly any GOP senators support the idea. Instead, McConnell and some other Republicans prefer another round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said there will be another boost for small business lending in the Paycheck Protection Program. “It’s going to be big,” he said.
The bills will also include tax breaks for businesses to hire and retain workers and to help shops and workplaces retool with new safety protocols.
The breakthrough on testing money was key after days of debate between Republicans and the White House. Republicans wanted $25 billion, but the Trump administration said the $9 billion in unspent funds from a previous aid deal was sufficient. The two sides settled on adding $16 billion to the unspent funds to reach $25 billion, senators said. There will also be fresh funds for vaccines.
Of the $105 billion for education, Republicans want $70 billion to help K-12 schools reopen, $30 billion for colleges and $5 billion for governors to allocate. The Trump administration wanted school money linked to reopenings, but in McConnell’s package the money for K-12 would likely be split between those that have in-person learning and those that don’t.
Democrats already approved House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s more sweeping $3 trillion package two months ago.
In what they hoped to leverage as a reversal of the earlier situation, when their bickering and efforts to negotiated led to major delays in the original stimulus bill, some now claimed that Republicans were the ones taking too long.
“We are just days away from a housing crisis that could be prevented,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
McConnell calls his proposal a “starting point” in negotiations with Democrats. Congress in March approved the massive $2.2 trillion CARES package, the biggest of its kind in U.S. history.
Still, some Republicans said they are unlikely to approve any new aid.
“I just don’t see the need for it,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told reporters on Wednesday.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press