Senate Republicans on Monday formally unveiled their stimulus proposal, which will serve as an opening bid ahead of bipartisan negotiations with Democrats as lawmakers scramble to respond to the ongoing economic and public health crisis sparked by the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, “The American people need more help,” and that the GOP proposal will be called the HEALS Act, an acronym for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.”
McConnell announced that a series of GOP committee chairmen will roll out the component parts of the legislation shortly. “Just like in March with the CARES Act, Senate Republicans have authored another bold framework to help our nation. So now we need our Democratic colleagues to reprise their part as well,” McConnell said, calling on them to “put aside partisan stonewalling,” and “rediscover the sense of urgency that got the CARES Act across the finish line.”
The Senate Republican proposal will sit around $1 trillion and include $105 billion for schools, a second round of direct payments to individuals and families, $16 billion in new money for testing, a second, more targeted round of forgivable small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, a myriad of tax incentives for employers to rehire, retain and retrofit their offices for employees. It will also include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s redline: liability protections for businesses, schools, hospitals and non-profits.
The plan includes a $400 cut in enhanced unemployment benefits, and will serve as an opening bid for bipartisan negotiations with Democrats while Congress scrambles to respond to the economic and public health crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. It will also cut enhanced federal unemployment benefits — set to expire at the end of this week — to $200, from the current level of $600, as states transition to implement a system designed to provide approximately 70% wage replacement for laid off workers, according to two people familiar with the proposal.
McConnell has said that he hopes that in the next two to three weeks the Senate will be able to get the next coronavirus relief bill to the House. Democrats are already unified behind their own opening offer — a $3 trillion proposal that passed the House back in May. The GOP plan had originally been expected to be released last week, but was delayed amid disputes and holdups.
Hard-fought negotiations are expected ahead given that Democrats and Republicans are far away from each other in terms of both topline numbers as well as specifics in their proposals. Republicans have also faced division within their own ranks as they have worked to put together a proposal, and some GOP senators are wary of spending more money on top of the trillions of coronavirus aid that lawmakers have already enacted.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on Monday that he expects “significant resistance” from Republicans to the GOP stimulus bill. “There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars. The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington, the answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work. And as it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns,” he said.
Democrats put forward their stimulus plan earlier in the year, with the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passing the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, but Republicans have struggled to answer it with legislation of their own, failing to share their plan as promised last week.
Passing the bill — which will involve striking a deal with Democrats — is a deeply urgent matter for Congress. McConnell, on Monday following the roll out of the GOP stimulus proposal, described the plan as “a starting place,” acknowledging that Democrats will be needed to get anything to the President’s desk and that more negotiations lay ahead. “Every bill has to start somewhere. Republicans are in the majority in the Senate. This is a starting place. You’ll have plenty of stories to cover along the way as we have these discussions back and forth across party lines and with the administration,” he said.