Dec. 9 (UPI) — The White House has proposed a $916 billion coronavirus relief package that includes money for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses, schools and universities.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the proposal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Tuesday evening, saying in a statement that he and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had reviewed it with President Donald Trump, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
“As part of this proposal, we will fund it using $140 billion in unused funds from the Paycheck Protections Program and $429 billion in Treasury funds,” Mnuchin said. “I look forward to achieving bipartisan agreement so we can provide this critical economic relief to American workers, families and businesses.”
Mnuchin offered little information about the proposal’s contents other than saying it is “slightly larger” than a $908 billion package bipartisan lawmakers have been working on.
Pelosi acknowledged in a joint statement with Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader, that the package represents progress as McConnell signed off on it, but stated it must not block bipartisan talks that are underway on the other package.
“Members of the House and Senate have been engaged in good-faith negotiations and continue to make progress,” the Democratic leaders said. “The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”
They added that the president’s offer also cuts the unemployment insurance proposal being discussed by the congressional members from $180 billion to $40 billion, which is a non-starter.
“That is unacceptable,” they said.
Both Pelosi and Schumer gave their support to the $908 billion package last week, which is less than the $2.2 trillion bill the House passed in March but more than the $500 billion bill McConnell had been backing amid efforts to end the months-long standoff on another coronavirus relief measure.
Earlier Tuesday, McConnell told reporters during a press conference they can’t leave for the holiday recess later this month without reaching a deal, stating “the country needs it.”
The senator said that they should pass a bill that the agree on, suggesting both sides shed “controversial” demands, specifically the Republicans’ ask of liability protections and the Democrats’ want of state and local government aid.
“We know the new administration is going to be asking for another package. What I recommend is we set aside liability, we set aside state and local and we pass those things we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year,” he said.
Schumer responded that by scraping aid for governments McConnell was “pulling the rug out from under” governors and mayors fighting to keep firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers and other government employees on payrolls.
“When a worker is laid off from a state or local government, it is no different than a worker is laid off from a small business,” he told reporters. “They each have to feed their families, pay the rent and mortgage and have enough wherewithal, enough dollars to survive.”
He argued state and local funding has broad bipartisan support while McConnell’s corporate liability proposal does not.
He added that McConnell has refused to take part in bipartisan negotiations and accused him of attempting to “sabotage” what he described as “the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”
Meanwhile, a group of mostly Democratic senators penned a letter Tuesday saying the $908 billion bipartisan bill doesn’t go far enough, calling for a new relief proposal to include a $1,200 direct payment to adults and $500 to their children while removing language that shields corporations that risk the health and safety of workers and customers.
Led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the six senators said they “very much appreciate the hard work” lawmakers are putting into the proposal but “given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough.”
The senators said only a portion of the $908 billion package is new money with $560 billion coming as remaining funds from March’s $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
“Given the enormity of the crisis today, it would be unacceptable to take a major step backwards from those previous efforts by passing legislation that only included $348 billion in new money,” the letter said.