On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the House “Problem Solvers Caucus,” a collection of House Democrats and Republicans, released their compromise COVID-19 relief framework. The framework proposes a bill that would total approximately $1.5 trillion with the potential to go higher (or lower) depending on where the economy goes in the next months. Perhaps most significantly, the bill includes two of the most contentious relief proposals, an extension of unemployment supplements and state fiscal relief.
Although specific legislative language was not provided, it would start with a $450 weekly unemployment supplement with a potential to be adjusted upward to $600 after two months and $500 billion in state fiscal relief based on state and local revenue shortfalls and some other documentation requirements. Since there was not legislative language it is not clear how easily the unemployment and state relief would function.
The proposal did not garner much interest in Congress until the President used his Twitter account to say, “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans…” the week before the Senate voted 52 to 47 on a slimmed-down coronavirus relief package that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had released earlier in the week. The legislation (substitute to S.178) would offer approximately half of what Senator McConnell had released at the end of July. The July 27 HEALS Act was projected to cost approximately $1 trillion, while this bill costs approximately $600 billion. Most significantly, the September bill does not offer any state fiscal relief except for some limited assistance on education, child care, and a few other narrow priorities.
The House legislation (HEROES Act, HR 6800) passed in May was projected to cost approximately $3.2 trillion. Since that point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has countered with a $2.2 trillion proposal, which Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has rejected but has in the past some Administration openness to a $1.5 trillion package.
After the President’s comments, Senate leaders showed no interest in going above the $500 billion figure, and they seemed especially opposed to state fiscal relief. Still, there were some telephone conversations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Secretary Mnuchin. She has said the House would be on call through next month.
At the same time the two houses are discussing a continuing resolution that would continue federal funding at the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2020. The Senate Republicans seem to be holding out for funding that would run out in December whereas the House Democrats want a bill that reaches beyond January 1, 2021 when a new Congress and the next presidential term begins. The CR is expected to be “clean” meaning there would be a few adjustments, some possible add-ons for priorities for House Democrats such as the census. Senate leadership has suggested they may leave after next week if a CR is passed.