The Trump administration offered a $916 billion coronavirus relief package to Democrats this week, the latest salvo in a nearly half-year long battle on Capitol Hill to pass another round of emergency aid.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the offer, which was essentially a joint proposal from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Tuesday afternoon, he said in a statement.
“This proposal includes money for state and local governments and robust liability protections for businesses, schools and universities,” Mnuchin said in his statement.
Those issues have plagued negotiations for months: Republicans maintain that a liability shield for businesses is needed, a "poison pill" for Democrats. At the same time, Democrats want to include billions in new funding for state and local governments, which their GOP colleagues have lambasted a "blue-state bailout."
Mnuchin offered limited details, but McCarthy told Bloomberg the proposal also includes a one-time $600 stimulus check for adults — half the payment included in the March CARES Act — and $1,200 for couples, as well as $600 per child.
But it pays for the cash payments in part by eliminating the proposal for $300 a week in boosted federal unemployment benefits included in a $908 billion framework unveiled last week by a group of bipartisan senators.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who endorsed the $908 billion compromise, called it "progress" that McConnell agreed to back the $916 billion offer, but maintained that the ongoing bipartisan negotiations are the best path to a deal.
"Members of the House and Senate have been engaged in good-faith negotiations and continue to make progress," they said in a joint statement. "The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution."
They also lambasted the elimination of the sweetened jobless aid as "unacceptable."
“The President’s proposal starts by cutting the unemployment insurance proposal being discussed by bipartisan Members of the House and Senate from $180 billion to $40 billion. That is unacceptable," they said.
Mnuchin's proposal came after McConnell said he would be willing to leave out liability protections for businesses if Democrats would drop their demand that the legislation include additional funding for state and local governments. Democratic leaders rejected that proposal.
After months of deadlock, lawmakers are rushing to try and strike a deal before the end of the year, when social safety nets put in place earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act are set to expire. At least 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, while eviction moratoriums for renters and protections for student borrowers are set to lapse.
The House will vote on a temporary funding measure Wednesday to keep the federal government running until Dec. 18, giving lawmakers an extra week to strike a deal on an omnibus spending bill that's expected to include COVID-19 relief.