The Senate was back from its summer break on Sept. 7, and the House returns on Sept. 14, with reaching an agreement on a coronavirus relief package the top priority on what could be a short session ahead of the upcoming elections.
The lawmakers left for their summer break in early August without reaching an agreement, and President Donald Trump sidestepped by issuing some executive orders that were designed to help at least temporarily close the gap, but they accomplished little during the interim,
The Democratic-led house seems willing to move only slightly from the $3 trillion far reaching HEROES Act they passed in May.
On their first day back, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), unveiled a proposal for a smaller, targeted stimulus bill, the $500 billion Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act. McConnell indicates he’d like to hold a vote on the bill soon. However, it isn’t even clear if McConnell has enough Republican support for the bill for it to pass the Senate.
With a number of Republican senators struggling to maintain their seats, and control of the Senate in question, a number of senators hope to pass some kind of relief bill as a way to pacify their constituents.
What’s in the Republican Bill
McConnell called the package “a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis, the issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible.”
McConnell’s bill would provide:
• $105 billion to help schools reopen,
• A scaled-back $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit, instead of the $600-per-week benefit that expired at the end of July,
• A $10 billion write-off in earlier debt at the U.S. Postal Service,
• $31 billion for a coronavirus vaccine,
• $16 billion for virus testing and tracing,
• $15 billion to help child care providers reopen,
• $20 billion for farmers, and
• A $258 billion second round of paycheck protection subsidies for certain small businesses.
In the package and not likely to get the support of Democrats is a school choice initiative sought by Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and others that would provide a tax break, for two years, for people who donate to nonprofit organizations offering private school scholarships.
Another item Democrats probably would not support are broad liability protections for businesses and schools that are powering ahead to reopen
What’s Not in the Republican Bill
While the Republican “Skinny” Bill does cover some of the basics both sides agree on, there’s still a lot missing that was included in the HEROES Act passed by the House.
What’s missing is:
• $1,200 direct payments going out to individuals and up to $6,000 for families.
• Assistance to state and local governments. The Bill provides $500 billion to states governments to counter the fiscal impacts of the pandemic, $375 billion to assist local governments, $20 billion to tribal governments and $20 billion to U.S. territories.
• Funding of a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay. Their employers would be able to apply for grants to provide $13-per-hour premium pay for their workers on top of regular wages. These employers would be eligible for grants of $10,000 per worker, or $5,000 for highly compensated essential workers.
• Another provision of the bill would appropriate $850 million for states to provide child and family care for essential workers. The bill would also provide funding for personal protective equipment for emergency health care and essential workers.
• The legislation would extend existing student loan payment plans established in the CARES Act, which did not cover private loan borrowers. It would provide up to $10,000 in debt relief to be applied to a private student loan, to be paid in monthly installments by the Treasury Department until September 2021.
• $3.6 billion in grants to states for planning and preparation of elections, as well as to bolster election security.
Will a relief package be approved before the election? Individuals in close elections may be motivated to make something happen, while on the other hand, those who are clearly out front, may be satisfied with business as usual.