(Bloomberg) – Senate Republicans are pulling together a narrow $500 billion Covid-19 relief package, aiming for a vote next week, in an effort to prod Democrats back to the negotiating table.
GOP lawmakers in the Senate, with encouragement from the White House, have been working for several weeks on a slimmed-down virus stimulus that would spend much less money than the $1 trillion proposal put forward by Senate Republicans last month.
But they still face likely resistance from some Republican senators who oppose any additional economic stimulus. In addition, any move to actually consider the bill would need 60 votes in the Senate, and Democrats are expected to block it in the absence of a deal between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House.
President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said on Tuesday that the Democratic proposal of a $2.2 trillion package isn’t realistic and that a $500 billion plan more targeted at areas of the economy still being hurt by the pandemic would be a good starting point for negotiations.
“If we can add from that and use that as a foundation, or at least pass that, knowing that we will largely agree on that targeted proposal coming from Senate Republicans, let’s go ahead,” Meadows said on CNBC. Once that’s passed, the principals could “continue to negotiate on those things that perhaps might separate the two parties,” he said.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, a member of the body’s Republican leadership, said at the Capitol Tuesday that the Senate may consider the legislation next week, when it returns from an August recess. The House isn’t scheduled to be back in session until the following week.
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John BarrassoPhotographer: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg
Stimulus talks between the White House and congressional Democrats broke down on Aug. 7 and both sides remain about $1 trillion apart. The Trump administration has rejected Democratic demands for $915 billion in aid to state and local governments as well as $600 per week in federal supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of the year.
Meadows said Trump hasn’t ruled out taking additional executive actions to spur the economy, which continues to struggle with just about two months before the presidential election.
The president’s unilateral moves last month included giving employers the option of deferring payroll taxes through year-end, though IRS guidance on Friday showed they’d be on the hook for repaying those levies early next year unless Congress acts to waive the liability. That’s left questions about how many companies will go forward with it and how much of a boost to incomes and spending it would provide.
The Trump administration is moving to implement the payroll tax deferral for most federal employees as soon as possible, according to an administration official who asked not to be named as the plan has yet to be publicly announced.
Limits to executive actions underscore the importance of congressional action, with economists warning the recovery will be stunted without more support stimulus.
One draft of the Senate GOP proposal circulating would provide $300 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits through December, but omit the $1,200 per individual stimulus checks that the White House and Democrats favor. It would convert a previous $10 billion loan to the troubled Postal Service to a grant.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that as many as 20 of his 53 member conference oppose doing any further stimulus spending, an illustration of the difficulty the party has on agreeing to an approach.
The Senate’s slimmed-down proposal could also ultimately be attached to a stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government open after Oct. 1.
— With assistance by Saleha Mohsin