It’s been four days since the $600 federal unemployment benefits officially expired and 10 days since the last payment went out in 49 states; lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement on the next stimulus relief package.
Democrats and Republicans have been at an impasse over the contours of the next coronavirus aid bill with little progress in reconciling the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May and the $1 trillion HEALS Act unveiled by the Senate last week. Meanwhile, close to 30 million Americans are waiting anxiously, now formally cut off from an enhanced unemployment benefit that was keeping many of them financially afloat.
After days of butting heads, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who have been leading negotiations for Republicans, emerged from discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with a glimmer of hope.
Commitment On Timeline: Reach Deal By Friday
While still far apart on key issues, there is at least agreement on the schedule to reach an agreement. Negotiators committed to a timeline of striking a deal by the end of this week so that both the House and the Senate could vote next week, according to reporters at both CNN and The Washington Post. Mnuchin “touted commitment to reach an agreement by the end of this week. Which is a week after the original deadline of last week,” tweeted CNN’s Phil Mattingly. “Mnuchin says agreement reached on timeline: Deal this week if they can make one, pass it next week,” echoed The Post’s Erica Werner, offering a slightly more somber assessment. Whether this sticks remains to be seen, but even a timeline is at least a minor cause for celebration given the current state of discussions.
Many Unresolved Issues
While this is a step in the right direction, there are still a number of unresolved issues that could derail even this loose timeline. Overall, the two sides are still far on the overall cost of the relief bill. While Mnuchin highlighted progress he also dismissed the cost of the HEROES Act saying, “we’re not going anything close to $3.4 trillion. That’s just ridiculous.” Schumer echoed Mncuhin underlying assessment in recounting today’s negotiation session:“They made some concessions which we appreciated; we made some concessions which they appreciated. We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues but we’re continuing.”
Both sides are in agreement about sending Americans a second stimulus check, potentially $1,200 for single filers and other issues. “I think on testing, we’re close. On schools, in reality, we would be close if they wanted to be close. On child care. Hopefully on vaccine,” Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) said, according to The Washington Post. However, on other issues, the two sides remain at odds. These include aid to state and local governments as well as the thorniest point over what rate to extend the federal unemployment benefit.
Another potential issue has been an initial Republican demand to include a liability shield for businesses in the relief bill. McConnell had called originally called the provision a “red-line” in negotiations, but he has since taken a back-seat in the negotiations. Earlier today, he ceded the point further saying that he would support whatever agreement the White House and Democrats reached. “Wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team, that have to sign it into law, and the Democrat not insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House, is something I’m prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” he told reporters.
Pressure Ratcheting Up On Congress
With the Senate set to recess on August 7th, members of Congress were starting to face the reality of heading home to face irate and struggling constituents without an agreement. “How do you think it looks for us to be back home when this is unresolved?” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). “This is the most important thing we need to be doing.” In an election year, this is a prospect many members do not want to face.
Unemployment Lapse Continues
The consensus on a timeline to reach agreement and pass a bill is a step in the right direction, but will still leave millions of Americans with a temporary lapse in federal unemployment benefits. It will be roughly two weeks from the time the new stimulus law is passes until most states are able to implement the new benefits scheme and resume payments, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project. That means that if Congress is able to stick to its current timeline and pass a bill early next week, Americans may not see money arrive until the end of August, which would more than one month since their last federal benefit payment.
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