Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made a surprise re-entry into talks on a 2020 pandemic-relief package with a $916 billion proposal that opened a potential new path to a year-end deal despite objections from Democrats over elements of the plan.
After largely leaving the task to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell since Election Day, Mnuchin pitched a $916 billion stimulus plan to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a Tuesday afternoon telephone call, more than a week after she and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer retreated from their previous insistence on a $2.4 trillion bill.
Mnuchin’s offer was a joint proposal supported by McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who called it “a great offer.” Mnuchin said he had conferred with President Donald Trump, whose support will be needed to get any deal through the Republican-controlled Senate.
Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement that it marked “progress” because it brought McConnell closer to the $908 billion framework unveiled last week by a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers. But they said its omission of supplementary jobless benefits was “unacceptable,” and backed the continuing bipartisan effort at crafting a compromise.
The Mnuchin plan differs in important ways from the alternative that Pelosi and Schumer endorsed as a basis for fresh talks. It includes $600 stimulus payments to individuals, which could win support from both Republicans and Democrats, but it pays for that in part through cutting the bipartisan proposal for $300 a week in supplemental unemployment aid.
It also includes what Mnuchin described as “robust” protections for employers from Covid-19-related lawsuits, something Democrats have opposed. Negotiators on the bipartisan plan had been working on a proposed moratorium that offered potential for a compromise. It does have $160 billion in aid for state and local authorities, much the same as the bipartisan plan.
Mnuchin’s pitch ties state and local aid together with liability protections — the two key roadblocks to a deal so far — so they can either be removed or stay in together, according to McCarthy.
McConnell earlier Tuesday had floated the idea of setting aside those two issues, but Democratic leaders quickly rejected dropping aid to states and localities.
Meantime, the bipartisan group continued their own negotiations. Their work over the weekend and early this week on turning the plan into legislative language had slowed amid the persistent disagreements over state and local aid and the Covid-19 liability protections that McConnell in particular has championed.
The Mnuchin offer, which was made to Pelosi in the 5 p.m. call, was essentially a joint proposal from the White House, McConnell and McCarthy.
That marks a turnaround for McConnell, who since the election has stuck with pitching a smaller-scale effort that Democrats had previously blocked. That focused mainly on renewed Paycheck Protection Program help for small businesses — something that’s in both Mnuchin’s and the bipartisan plan — education aid and funding for vaccine distribution and other Covid-19 initiatives.
While it is progress that Leader McConnell has signed off on a $916 billion offer based on the bipartisan framework, the President’s proposal, which cuts unemployment insurance by $140 billion compared to the framework, is unacceptable.1:57 AM · Dec 9, 2020
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