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Coronavirus stimulus plans: What we know about the negotiations between Congress and the Trump White House

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WASHINGTON — Negotiations over another stimulus package are deadlocked a month and a half before the November elections and as millions of Americans are left waiting for another round of aid.

Democrats and Republicans have been unable to come together on a deal to deliver COVID-19 relief weeks after unemployment benefits and eviction protections lapsed for many Americans.

Here’s what we know about the state of stimulus negotiations in Congress: 

How much time does Congress have?

The House and Senate only have a few weeks left in their scheduled session before they leave ahead of the November elections. The House is scheduled to stay in session until Oct. 2, and the Senate will stay until Oct. 9. After they leave, the two chambers are not scheduled to return until after Election Day. The House is set to come back on Nov. 16, and the Senate on Nov. 9.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday the House would stay in session until a deal was reached. 

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said on CNBC Tuesday. 

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What proposals are out there? 

Several recent stimulus proposals have emerged, though only one has passed the House or Senate.

House Democrats passed their more than $3 trillion plan, the HEROES Act, in May. It included billions for cash-strapped local and state governments and another round of stimulus checks. Republicans in the Senate refused to take it up, and President Donald Trump said it was “dead on arrival.”  

Senate Republicans have offered two proposals. The first one, the $1 trillion HEALS Act, offered a $200 boost to unemployment insurance, compared with $600 in the Democratic plan, and no money for state and local governments. The HEALS Act never came up for a vote amid criticism from Senate Republicans who called it misguided and expensive. The second, a $300 billion plan, was blocked from coming up for a full Senate vote by Senate Democrats earlier this month. 

On Tuesday, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, many of whom face tough reelection battles in the fall, unveiled their own $1.5 trillion plan for a relief bill. Democratic leadership has signaled the bill would not come up for a vote, but the White House said it could help provide a basis for future negotiations. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has been one of the lead White House negotiators, said Wednesday the bill “provides a foundation” for a potential deal. He said the legislation and Pelosi’s promise to keep the House in session until a deal was brokered left him “encouraged” that a deal could come to fruition.

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Do these plans include stimulus checks?

The HEALS Act, the HEROES Act, and the Problem Solvers’ plan all include $1,200 stimulus checks for adults. The HEROES Act offers $1,200 per child, whereas the Problem Solvers’ plan and the HEALS Act include a benefit of $500 per child.

The smaller $300 billion Senate Republican plan did not include stimulus checks.

Why can’t they come to an agreement?

The two sides are deadlocked over issues like unemployment insurance for out-of-work Americans, funding for cash-strapped state and local governments, and liability protections for companies.

Senate Republicans have voiced concerns about increased deficit spending and have said they do not want to bail out Democratic states and cities with an infusion of aid. Democrats have refused to budge on the amounts they’ve allocated for state and local funding.

Both sides also differ over the amount of money to give in enhanced unemployment benefits. The stimulus package passed by the House and Senate in March gave a $600 weekly boost to state unemployment benefits. That benefit ran out at the end of July. Since then, Democrats have supported renewing that benefit at $600 per week, while Republicans have offered $300 and $200 in their proposals. The Problem Solvers’ plan offered an amount in the middle — $450.  

Meadows said Wednesday on CNBC he hoped for a price tag in the $250 to $300 billion range for state and local funding, down from the nearly $1 trillion Democrats have been pushing for.

Democrats have offered to cut $1 trillion from their package to bring it down to a $2.2 trillion price tag, an offer Republicans have so far not accepted.

“We have come down, but the needs of the American people…can only go so far,” she said Wednesday on MSNBC. She said a package needed to address other issues that had come up since Democrats passed their plan like relief for airlines and restaurants.

Who is negotiating?

The prolonged talks on the latest package have been largely between top Democrats: Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and White House negotiators: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Meadows. 

What about the relief that already passed?

COVID-19 led to Congress passing the largest ever emergency aid package, known as the CARES Act. The more than $2 trillion bill included stimulus payments to many Americans, bolstered unemployment benefits and forgivable loans to small businesses. Many of the most popular programs that were created by Congress have expired, including a $600 weekly boost to unemployment, a federal moratorium on evictions and a small business loan program.

The impasse led Trump to sign a series of executive orders in August that added a $400 weekly unemployment boost, suspended some student loan payments, protected some renters from eviction, and deferred payroll taxes.  

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When was the last time Congress passed COVID-19 relief? 

Congress passed a handful of COVID-19 stimulus bills that were signed into law in March and early April. The aid totaled more than $3 trillion.

But since then, there hasn’t been another deal for new coronavirus stimulus spending, despite each side saying Americans need more relief. 

The latest bill that received bipartisan support was passed in July and did not include more funds, but rather an extension that offered small businesses several more weeks to apply for federal loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

What does the election have to do with this? 

Lawmakers face an artificial deadline to wrap up a deal by the time they head out to campaign before the election. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., the chair of the House Budget Committee, told USA TODAY recently, “It’s not good government to leave without doing anything” if both sides fail to reach a deal.

“I think we ought to signal that we are willing to do something and we are willing to compromise,” he said.

Groups of moderate lawmakers in both parties like those in the Problem Solvers Caucus, many of whom face tough re-election races this fall, have tried to push their parties’ leadership to get back to the bargaining table.

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What have leaders said about the path forward?

Pelosi reiterated again on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday that while she wanted to pass a bill, Democrats would not agree to a small proposal that in her eyes would not meet the needs of Americans.

“It isn’t about finger pointing. It isn’t about machinations. It’s about meeting the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said. “And that’s why we have this impasse at this time.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., again cast blame on Democrats Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor, saying Pelosi was too concerned with her “personal ego” to compromise and claimed Democrats were “intent that working families cannot receive any more relief until Election Day.”

Meanwhile, the president appeared to be lobbying against the position of congressional Republicans, saying he wanted a broad package that included stimulus checks – something that was not included in the last GOP bill.

“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The president reiterated that stance at a White House news conference Wednesday evening, applauding the bipartisan bill posed by the Problem Solvers caucus as a starting point for negotiations and explaining that despite GOP opposition to a larger bill, he could “convince” them to get on board. 

Following Trump’s tweet, Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement they were “encouraged” by Trump pushing Republicans to increase the price tag of the bill and looked forward to negotiating further. 

Why is this impasse such a big deal?

As several relief programs expired at the end of July, the number of COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed across the nation – reaching the highest levels of new reported cases since the start of the pandemic. The lapse of programs and Congress’ inability to pass new legislation has left the nearly 900,000 still unemployed, as of last week, without a weekly $600 boost in unemployment benefits. Businesses continue to struggle and state and local governments have seen their budgets gutted and workers furloughed.

Experts have long warned about a potential second wave of the virus and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield testified before a Senate committee Wednesday that a vaccine could be available in the late second or third quarter of 2021.

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