New White House offer adds $600 checks to COVID-19 relief

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The White House has decided to include $600 direct payments to most Americans, but eliminate a $300-per-week jobless benefit, in a COVID-19 package sent from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Tuesday evening.

Mnuchin made the offer to Pelosi late Tuesday afternoon, he said in a statement. He offered few details, though House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said it proposes the $600 direct payment for individuals and $1,200 for couples, which is half the payment delivered by the March pandemic relief bill.

“Speaker Pelosi and I spoke today at 5pm, and on behalf of the President, I presented a $916 Billion proposal, which is a slightly larger package than the bipartisan proposal of $908 Billion,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “This proposal includes money for state and local governments and robust liability protections, schools and universities.”

According to Mnuchin, he and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reviewed the plan with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who endorsed the deal.

Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement calling a cut in unemployment insurance from the previous bipartisan bill from $180 billion to $40 billion as “unacceptable,” citing the administration’s refusal to back the partial restoration, to $300 per week to supplement regular state benefits, of bonus pandemic jobless benefits that lapsed in August.

“While it is progress that Leader McConnell has signed off on a $916 billion offer that is based off of the bipartisan framework, the President’s proposal must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway. Members of the House and Senate have been engaged in good-faith negotiations and continue to make progress. The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution,” Pelosi and Schumer said in the joint statement.

A bipartisan group — led by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, among others — is seeking to rally lawmakers behind a $908 billion framework that includes a $300-per-week pandemic jobless benefit and $160 billion for states and local governments. It is more generous than a GOP plan that’s been filibustered twice already but far smaller than a wish list assembled by House Democrats.

Republican members of the group don’t want to spend above the agreed-upon $908 billion price tag, which leaves no room for even the reduced $600 direct government payment to most Americans that is sought by Trump. Many Republican lawmakers say direct payments are costly and send too much aid to people who do not need it.

“I look forward to achieving bipartisan agreement so we can provide this critical economic relief to American workers, families and businesses,” Mnuchin said in the statement.

President-elect Joe Biden is pressing for as much pandemic relief as possible, though he’s not directly involved in the talks. McConnell says Congress will not adjourn without providing the long-overdue COVID-19 relief. 

They will fund part of the proposal with $140 billion in unused Paycheck Protection Program funds and $429 billion in Treasury funds.

The House on Wednesday will pass a one-week government funding bill to give lawmakers more time after months of futile negotiations. Without the measure, the government would shut down this weekend.

Other key elements of a potential year-end COVID-19 rescue package are clear: Another round of subsidies for businesses that are especially hard hit by the pandemic; extension of regular state jobless benefits set to expire Dec. 31; funding to distribute vaccines and other help for struggling health care providers; and funding for schools.

Bot McConnell and Pelosi have shown some flexibility in negotiations.

McConnell had previously said he would not put any pandemic relief bill on the floor that does not include the liability shield, which is being sought by businesses, universities, nonprofits, and others that are reopening during the pandemic. This summer, he endorsed the $300-per-week jobless benefit but Republicans shelved the idea in two failed votes this fall.

Pelosi initially demanded more than $900 billion for state and local governments this spring, but the fiscal situation in the states hasn’t been as bad as feared and Democratic leaders could be willing to accept a $160 billion proposal by the moderate group. Before the November election, Pelosi criticized a $1.5 trillion COVID-19 aid plan assembled by moderate members as inadequate but now is willing to consider significantly less as a bridge to additional help under a Biden administration next year.

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