It is finally here.
Senate Republicans officially introduced a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package on Monday including another stimulus payment for Americans and a cut to unemployment benefits, setting the stage for what looks to be a rushed and perhaps hard battle to reach an agreement with Hosue Democrats on expiring aid provisions.
After days of negotiating between GOP lawmakers and the White House, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the Health, Economic Assistance Liability Protection and Schools, or HEALS, Act which includes a $1,200 stimulus payment, an extension of unemployment payments at a reduced rate, a “sequel” to the Paycheck Protection Program and funding to reopen schools.
“We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country: getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work and winning the health care fight against the virus,” McConnell, R-Ky., said.
The bill would seek to refresh and extend relief efforts implemented in the $3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March, including another round of direct checks.
One of the most contentious provisions would reduce weekly federal unemployment payments from $600 to $200, while states would adopt a system to provide about 70 percent of wage replacement for workers who have been laid off.
The Republican plan also includes another round of direct relief payments, up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent. Like the first round, the payments fall for those earning above $75,000 and are not available to individuals with income above $99,0000.
The aid for dependents, however, was somewhat expanded to include adult dependents. That means there will be more money for parents caring for college students and families caring for elderly parents. But Republicans held out against demands that households that include illegal immigrants also be included.
Other provisions include allocating $100 billion to help schools and universities reopen fully, liability protections for medical workers, schools and employers, additional funding for personal protective equipment for first responders and freezing 2021 Medicare premiums at 2020 levels.
The Republican proposal would also provide a shield to businesses, schools, and health-care providers in coronavirus lawsuits. Senator McConnell has argued that protecting businesses from costly lawsuits is one of the keys to successfully setting the economy back on a path of growth.
Democrats have opposed the package, instead backing a $3 trillion proposal passed by the House in May. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., described the GOP bill as a “half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal,” specifically taking aim at the change to unemployment benefits.
“The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, simply put, is unworkable,” he said. “The idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated.”
The Trump administration is pushing to separate the unemployment portion from other aspects of the proposal if lawmakers can’t agree on a single, comprehensive bill.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Sunday they will take that course despite express opposition from Democratic leaders.
“Honestly, I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace, helping with our schools,” Meadows told ABC’s This Week. “If we can do that along with liability protection, perhaps we put that forward and get that passed as we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come.
“We have a few modifications that we’re looking for clarity on, but we’ve gotten those down to a handful that hopefully will be resolved,” Meadows added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic Leader Schumer last week said the Republican plan is insufficient and rejected any move to individualize portions of the bill.
But Mnuchin said the approach can be effective.
“This will be the fifth set of legislation,” he told Fox News Sunday. “So there’s no reason why we can’t have numbers 5, 6 and 7 as we need to deal with issues.”
–UPI contributed to this report.