Fri. or forget it: W. House
Stimulus deal deadline floated
It’s Friday or bust.
White House negotiators suggested that Congress has just 48 hours to cut a deal for a massive coronavirus stimulus package — or get nothing.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a senior GOP leader, said on Wednesday that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows floated the deadline as talks showed little sign of major progress.
“If there’s not a deal by Friday there won’t be a deal,” was the message from the White House said Blunt, according to Jennifer Shutt of Roll Call.
Mnuchin and Meadows derided the tricky three-way talks with Democrats as an unending “Kabuki dance.”
“At some point, you have to set a deadline or just continue this Kabuki dance every day and nobody wants to do that,” Blunt said.
There is no obvious reason why a deal has to be enacted by Friday or why talks couldn’t go on through the weekend or even longer.
Congress is supposed to leave town at the end of the week for its annual August recess. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they may have to stick around to hammer out a deal.
Here’s a look where things stand based on public and private statements by key players and their staff:
Pelosi is staking out a hard line on extending a $600-perweek supplemental pandemic federal jobless benefit, which lapsed last week. Republicans offered to extend the benefits into December but reduce the amount in 2021. .
AID TO STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Similarly, the White House has offered Democrats $150 billion in new appropriations to help state and local governments alleviate revenue losses from the damage the coronavirus has wrought on the economy. That matches the amount appropriated after a huge behind-the-scenes battle during negotiations on the bipartisan $2 trillion coronavirus bill that passed in March.
Pelosi and President Donald Trump agree on another $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, making the idea all but certain to be included in the final agreement, at a cost in the $300 billion range. Pelosi is also pressing the case for a 15% increase in foodstamp benefits that are especially important to key progressive constituencies, and Democrats won’t allow $20 billion in aid to farmers without a big trade-off on food aid.
Democrats are also pressing for help for renters and homeowners having difficulty making housing payments and help for essential workers, but both sides support more funding for child-care grants, community health centers and energy subsidies for the poor.
A cornerstone to any agreement, and one of the areas in which both sides are eager to display generosity, involves over $100 billion for help to school systems. The White House and its GOP allies are pressing for more money for schools that return students to the classroom and want to help private schools as well.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist that the legislation include some sort of liability shield against lawsuits brought against businesses, schools and universities, and charities that operate during the pandemic. Pelosi is opposed for now, but Democrats — who see it as a key to any final agreement — aren’t ruling the idea out.
The Postal Service is being run by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally under attack for management changes that have coincided with delays in mail delivery. A recent Democratic offer called for $10 billion for overtime and other costs, down from a $25 billion plan in the Housepassed coronavirus bill.
More than $100 billion in leftover loan funding from the Paycheck Protection Program — relief money for small businesses — is up for grabs. Top advocates like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are backing plans to ease some loan-forgiveness rules and permit a second round of PPP payments to especially hard-hit businesses.
The competing bills from House Democrats and Senate Republicans include a fair amount of money for non-coronavirus-related items. The Senate proposal contains an almost $2 billion new FBI headquarters in Washington and $30 billion for the Pentagon, including direct help for powerful defense contractors. That’s likely to get dumped, as will a more generous federal tax deduction for state and local taxes that Democrats included in their bill.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (from left) are among Trump administration’s top negotiators on coronavirus relief package.