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Lawmakers’ on-again, off-again stimulus talks were revived over the weekend after President Donald Trump’s administration put forth a $1.8 trillion offer — but a deal on another coronavirus relief package remains in limbo.
The president last week called off negotiations and shifted the focus to confirming his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a move heavily criticized by Democrats in Congress.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted Oct. 6.
The White House pivoted on its stance days later by offering its costliest plan yet.
Its $1.8 trillion proposal includes another round of $1,200 stimulus checks like those sent to Americans under the CARES Act in the spring and a $400 weekly boost to unemployment benefits among other things, according to NBC News.
Response to the proposal
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called the Trump administration’s offer “wholly insufficient.”
“This past week, the President demonstrated very clearly that he has not taken the war against the virus seriously, personally or nationally,” she wrote in a letter. “This attitude is reflected in the grossly inadequate response we finally received from the Administration on Saturday.”
She said disagreements over another package extend beyond spending and that the White House proposal doesn’t sufficiently address contact tracing, testing or COVID-19 treatment.
“We cannot safely reopen schools, the economy and our communities until we crush the virus with the science-based national plan for testing, tracing, treatment and isolation, and for the equitable and ethical distribution of a safe and effective vaccine once developed,” she wrote. “This strategic plan is contained in the Heroes Act, which includes $75 billion to fund this crucial work. “
Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, said Monday on Fox News that Senate Republicans will “ultimately come along with what the president wants” when asked what she would say to those who don’t support the new proposal.
“We believe Senate Republicans are not what’s blocking this,” she said. “It’s Democrats.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, reiterated Friday that it’s unclear whether lawmakers will reach a deal before the election, Politico reports.
“Even if an agreement is reached … the first item of priority in the Senate is the Supreme Court,” McConnell said, adding that it depends “what the agreement is, how complicated it is, how long it takes to write it. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it would pass,” according to Politico.
McConnell said last week that he supported Trump’s decision to halt negotiations and to focus on filling the court vacancy.
How did talks get here?
The latest offer is the largest put forth by the White House and Republican lawmakers, but it still falls far short of what Democrats have proposed.
Both sides have moved from their original proposals on a second relief package but have been unable to meet in the middle.
House Democrats on Oct. 1 passed a $2.2 trillion updated version of the Heroes Act — a $3 trillion package passed in the House in May that never received a vote in the Senate. The new package includes the $1,200 stimulus checks and would bring back the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost, McClatchy News previously reported.
The White House countered with a $1.6 trillion offer, which is up from the $1 trillion Senate Republicans proposed in August and up from the $1.3 trillion the White House initially offered. It would include stimulus checks but provided less funding for unemployment benefits, for state and local governments and for schools, among others things.
Senate Republicans balked at that White House counteroffer, with Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley saying “We’re more in the neighborhood of something below $1 trillion.”
The CARES Act, which was signed into law in March, was a $2.2 trillion bill.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke on Oct. 5 following the $2.2 trillion and $1.6 trillion proposals but didn’t reach a deal.
After Trump called off negotiations last week, he later tweeted he was “ready to sign” a stand alone bill for $1,200 stimulus checks. Pelosi and Mnuchin also reportedly spoke again last week about a stand-alone bill for airline relief, according to The New York Times.
But on Thursday, Pelosi told reporters she won’t consider a stand-alone bill for airline funding without a promise from the Trump administration on a larger relief bill, CBS News reports.