WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — While both sides of the aisle appear committed to including a second round of direct payments in the next COVID-19 rescue bill, negotiations over what else to pack into the aid package remain fluid. The issue largely centers around what to do with a soon-to-expire $600 unemployment benefit boost.
On Saturday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol extending the unemployment benefit — but reducing it substantially — was a top priority for President Donald Trump. The secretary called the current $600 weekly aid “ridiculous” and a disincentive for people to go back to work. He also promised a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks would be coming in August.
“We’re prepared to move quickly,” Mnuchin said after he and Mark Meadows, the president’s acting chief of staff, spent several hours with GOP staff at the Capitol. He said the president would “absolutely” support the emerging Republican package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a Republican proposal would be ready on Monday. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday assailed Republican “disarray” over delays and a narrower effort.
The California Democrat panned the Trump administration’s desire to trim an expiring temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. “The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” she said from the Capitol.
Over the last week, McConnell abruptly halted the rollout of the Republicans’ $1 trillion plan, which was supposed to provide a counter-offer to the Democrats’ $3 trillion bill in an opening bid for negotiations. Trump was forced to abandon his push for a payroll tax break, which his party opposed, and the White House turned to new priorities.
McConnell’s emerging CARES Act II, named after the earlier effort, is expected to include a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to many Americans, a repeat of the money sent in spring, along with $105 billion to help reopen schools, $25 billion for virus testing and McConnell’s top priority of a liability shield to protect businesses, hospitals and others against COVID-19 lawsuits.
As of now, direct payments are expected to easily make it through bipartisan negotiations. Trump, Pelosi and McConnell were all in agreement that there should be another round of $1,200 in money for most Americans.
If GOP Senate plan makes it through Congress next week, it’s possible checks could be distributed in mid to late August, according to a report from CNET.
“The president’s preference is to make sure that we send out direct payments quickly so that in August people get more money. There is no question this worked before,” Mnuchin said earlier this week in a CNBC interview.
Lawmakers need to act with some urgency. The Senate is set for a recess after Friday, August 7 that would run through Labor Day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.