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Why Democrats have leverage in negotiating the next coronavirus aid package

White House negotiators are circling up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Republicans remain deeply divided.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020, to highlight the new Republican coronavirus aid package.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Congress has less than four days to come to a consensus on the next coronavirus relief package before unemployment and other aid expires, although both parties appear far from agreement.

With Senate Republicans divided over their proposal, Democrats have the upper hand right now in pushing through their priorities included in a $3 trillion package the House passed in May, news outlets in Washington reported.

“As top White House negotiators returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the leverage is apparent. They are meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is left with a weakened hand,” The Associated Press reported early in the day.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a joint statement Tuesday, expressing their frustration with Senate Republicans’ proposal. dubbed the HEALS Act.

“Two and a half months after Democrats delivered the solutions to defeating the virus and safely reopening the country in the Heroes Act, the Senate GOP has now come back with a weak, piecemeal proposal that will only prolong the suffering for millions of workers and families across America,” they wrote.

The Democratic leaders then outlined their problems with the Senate offer, like liability protections for businesses, no extension of the eviction moratorium and “bullying schools to reopen without the resources to reopen safely.”

“Democrats remain ready to work with Republicans on real solutions to bring immediate relief and save lives and livelihoods,” the statement concludes.

One of the portions of the $1 trillion Senate bill that has received some bipartisan support, is the reintroduction of Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s TRUST Act. The act would create bipartisan “rescue committees” to ensure the long-term solvency of federal trust funds for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“This is the right time to act. Our trust funds are approaching insolvency even more rapidly due to the pandemic,” Romney said on the Senate floor Monday. “More importantly, if we don’t act now, it will never happen before we face an overwhelming crisis.”

Republican and Democratic leaders also expressed a desire to slash $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters in Washington, which was added to the bill by the White House, according to The Hill. McConnell — who wants the funding removed from the bill — said Tuesday, “when we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-COVID-related measures are out, no matter what bill they were in at the start.”

Romney said he dislikes aspects of both proposals but hopes Republicans and Democrats can reach a compromise by week’s end. Fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee said he wants spending even in the Senate offer to be scaled back.

“With states reopening, it’s not clear that we need to borrow another trillion dollars now,” he said in a statement to the Deseret News. “If a compromise does come together I would like any additional spending delivered directly to families, rather than to politicians or government bureaucracies.”

Here are some of the main differences in the House bill and Senate proposal that are $2 trillion apart in total spending.

Individual impact payments

Democrats and Republicans both include a second round of $1,200 individual impact paymentsand $2,400 for couples. But lawmakers disagree on the how much parents should receive in additional aid for children, with the Republican proposal including $500 a child — like the CARES Act that passed in March — while Democrats propose families should receive $1,200 a child, with a cap at three children, The New York Times reported.

Unemployment insurance

The House bill would extend enhanced unemployment insurance, a $600 weekly payment in addition to the normal unemployment benefit for Americans who’ve lost their job during the pandemic, through the end of the year, while Senate Republicans would drastically cut that benefit to 70% of an unemployed American’s pre-pandemic wage. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggested a $200 a week “bridge” until states have implemented the Senate’s proposal.

Local government support

A third of the Democrats’ bill includes $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments. The Senate bill lacks that funding, but would provided additional flexibility in how the $150 billion allocated in the CARES Act is spent by those governments, according to The Washington Post.

Schools

The GOP Senate offer would include $105 billion in school funding for states, with $70 billion for K- 12 schools. The New York Times reported that two-thirds of that funding would be allocated only for schools holding traditional in-person classes. As the coronavirus swept across the nation this spring, schools were forced to close as teachers conducted lessons remotely. The House bill, which passed before the typical summer recess of American schools, did not include money for schools, although Pelosi said she would encourage $100 billion for schools be wrapped into a new stimulus bill.

Liability protection

Republicans have also offered liability protections for business and schools to protect them from coronavirus related lawsuits that could happen once their doors are opened. Democrats are against the protections, while McConnell says they must be a part of the new relief bill, according to The Hill.

The Pentagon

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that hundreds of millions of dollars of the Republican proposal would restore Pentagon spending that “the Trump administration redirected to help pay for Trump’s border wall.”

As an example, the White House had targeted $156 million for the Air Force F-35 aircraft earlier this year, while the relief bill includes nearly $700 million for F-35As, The Washington Post reported. 

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said “while doing nothing to address food security or provide payroll protection for state and local workers in critical jobs, Senate Republicans have instead splurged on weapons systems,” according to the Post.