Stimulus Standoff on Capitol Hill Highlights Partisan Gap in Priorities

August 4, 2020 Updated: August 5, 2020

WASHINGTON—Uncertainty hangs over the next coronavirus relief package, as Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on a number of issues, including the enhanced unemployment benefit.

Both sides agree on sending out a second round of $1,200 checks to Americans. However, on several major items, closed-door talks between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders yielded little progress this week.

Meanwhile, a $600 weekly unemployment bonus and a federal moratorium that protected millions of renters from eviction since late March have lapsed, leaving millions of Americans in limbo.

While the House is already in recess, lawmakers still have a few days before the Senate’s planned recess to pass another stimulus package.

“At the moment, the gap between our two parties in the negotiations is about priorities and about scale,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Aug. 4 on the Senate floor.

Democrats still demand “a bold, strong, and vigorous response from the federal government,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of insisting on items deemed unrelated to coronavirus response, calling them a “massive far-left wish list.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “is still agitating for strange, new special interest carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they are COVID related,” McConnell said Aug. 4 on the Senate floor.

To buy more time for talks, President Donald Trump called for a temporary extension of the unemployment benefit and a federal eviction moratorium.

The CARES Act that was passed in March temporarily banned evictions and late fees until July 25.

During a press conference on Aug. 3, Trump said he would consider issuing an executive order to extend the eviction moratorium. He also said he would exercise his presidential authority to defer payroll taxes as an immediate economic recovery measure.

As of the writing of this article, both sides said they expected to continue the negotiations. Here are the major differences between Republicans and Democrats on the coronavirus stimulus plan:

Unemployment Insurance

The CARES Act enacted in March provided an additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit, which expired on July 31. In May, House Democrats passed $3 trillion relief legislation, the HEROES Act, which has extended the enhanced benefit through January 2021.

Republicans argue that a $600 weekly bonus, which comes on top of benefits provided by state unemployment systems, is so generous that it creates a disincentive for workers to return to work. Studies show that some people received more money than they made before.

The HEALs Act introduced by the Senate Republicans proposes reducing the $600 weekly unemployment payment to $200 through September. And starting in October, the benefit would be replaced with a payment such that total unemployment benefits wouldn’t exceed 70 percent of a recipient’s lost wages. This would be determined through a formula specified in the bill or an alternative method proposed by states.

Pelosi signaled on Aug. 3 that Democrats would be open to reducing the benefit if the jobless rate goes down.

In order to resolve the impasse, Republicans have proposed a short-term extension of the unemployment benefit while both parties negotiate a broader stimulus package. Top Democrats, however, have opposed passing relief legislation with a “piecemeal” approach.

Liability Shields for Businesses

Republicans seek to provide liability protection to hospitals, schools, and businesses to protect them against coronavirus-related lawsuits.

McConnell earlier said that a lack of immunity for businesses would cause “an epidemic of lawsuits.”

Democrats, however, refuse to provide support for liability protections and instead push for stronger rules for workplace safety.

The HEROES Act requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to put in place an emergency standard to safeguard workers during the pandemic by requiring businesses to follow strict health guidelines.

Pelosi earlier said the “best protection for the employer is to protect the workers.”

The number of COVID-related lawsuits is nearing 5,000, according to Stephen Moore, an economist and former Trump campaign adviser.

“Ambulance-chasing trial lawyers could file 100,000 lawsuits in the next two years, and this would wipe out up to 1 million jobs,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Epoch Times.

Additional Round of Payments

Both parties agree on sending more stimulus checks and payments to Americans, similar to what was implemented in the CARES Act.

Republicans plan to provide $1,200 for individual taxpayers and $2,400 for married couples plus $500 for each dependent.

The Democrats’ plan includes checks of $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for married couples, and $1,200 for each dependent, up to three.

The CARES Act limited the additional $500 to dependents under age 17, but the new proposals by Republicans and Democrats provide it for all dependents, regardless of age.

The big difference is that the Democratic proposal would allow illegal immigrants to receive payment.

Federal Aid to States and Cities

Funding for state and local governments is one of the top priorities of Democrats. In the HEROES Act, they’ve proposed more than $1 trillion in aid for states, localities, tribal nations, and territories.

Republicans have opposed providing additional funds but instead offered more flexibility for how states could spend a previously allocated $150 billion in funds.

“We’re having a very good discussion with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Trump said during a press conference on Aug. 3.

“The problem is they want to do bailouts of their various Democrat-run states and cities, and they want a lot of money,” he said. “And we don’t think that’s fair.”

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