Top Democrats said Sunday they’re not yet ready to sign off on the major coronavirus stimulus package — and will be preparing their own legislation — as Congress attempts to ready the bill for passage as soon as Monday.
Just before an 11 a.m. meeting between the top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that “from my standpoint, we are apart.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters ahead of the meeting that “we need a bill that puts workers first, not corporations,” and declined to say whether he supports the current bill.
Leaving Sunday’s meeting, Pelosi said that she will introduce her own legislative package but that “we are still talking” with Republican leaders. She said that at this point, however, there is no bipartisan deal.
The meeting came hours before a critical procedural vote on the Phase III bill, the text of which has not yet been released. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delayed the vote from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Sunday to give congressional leaders more time to hammer out the details.
Just before Sunday morning’s meeting, Democrats revealed what they are still opposed to in the stimulus package. According to a person familiar with the negotiations, Democrats say the language would allow for corporations to keep bailout money while still firing workers, that the bailout money would have virtually no restraints and that there are very weak stock buyback restrictions.
A senior Democratic aide told NBC News that Democrats are concerned that the bill lacks specific provisions to protect people from evictions, foreclosure or forbearance and that it would allow for only three months of unemployment insurance.
McConnell told reporters after meeting that the Senate plans to move forward with its bill and is “hopeful and optimistic” it will have bipartisan support.
“But make no mistake about it, we’ll be voting tomorrow, I mean the wheel has to stop at some point,” McConnell said. “And I don’t want any of you to buy the notion that this isn’t a thoroughly bipartisan proposal already. There’s still some elbowing and maneuvering for room as you can imagine, but this is a pretty solid like bipartisan proposal agreed to by a lot of rank and file Democrats who were involved in drafting it.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he thought the meeting “was very productive” and that both sides are “very close” to a deal. He added that he doesn’t think Pelosi introducing her own legislation is “productive.”
“I don’t know that we’d have the time for that,” he said, adding he believes that “would do the country a lot of damage.”
Mnuchin told reporters he’s still optimistic about a deal, saying “we still think we have an overall understanding and we’re going to try to get this on paper.”
One potential complication was the news Sunday that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Paul in recent days had contact with many other Senate members, and his announcement triggered a discussion about whether senators should immediately return home or self-quarantine. Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both Utah Republicans, said later Sunday that they would be self-quarantining for two weeks after having “extended” interactions with Paul and would have to miss floor votes.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he is concerned that other senators could be infected.
“I am concerned about every American, this thing is incredibly infectious so I am concerned about every American,” he said. “Now senators, as a rule, tend to be a little bit older so senators are at an increased risk for complications. But by the way not as high risk as a nursing home. And so we just need to be concerned about everybody right now.”
Democratic senators learned of Paul’s coronavirus test while in the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting on Sunday, according to two sources with direct knowledge of that meeting. Roughly half the senators were in the room, with the rest calling in by conference call. Once the Paul news came out, the senators on the phone urged those in the room to leave immediately and stop congregating together in the room.
But other senators pointed out there’s no provision for the Senate to vote unless senators are physically present and that they can’t just all go home.
According to details of the bill released Thursday, Senate Republicans are proposing giving a $1,200 check to every American adult with an income under $75,000, decreasing gradually after that and zeroing out at $99,000 income. Checks would fall to $600 for those with little or no income tax liability, and $500 will be added in per child. The eligibility is based on 2018 tax filings.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has proposed universal $2,000 checks per month “for the duration of the crisis.” Other Senate Democrats have suggested quarterly checks that begin at $2,000 per person, decreasing over time based on economic triggers.
The total coronavirus package McConnell released costs roughly $1 trillion. Already, Congress has approved — and President Donald Trump has signed — coronavirus aid legislation that provides free coronavirus testing and ensures paid emergency leave, among other measures.
The legislation was a heavy focus of the Sunday political talk shows. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the vote Sunday will be huge in telling Congress “if we’re able to go forward” on the package.
“It’d be very hard to vote against this,” he said.
The package, Toomey said, will up unemployment benefits while expanding unemployment eligibility, include direct checks, ramp up resources for hospitals and medical researchers, provide major loans to small businesses and create a “very, very large credit facility” jointly stood up by the Treasury and Federal Reserve.
“This is going to be a very, very large, very powerful combination,” he said.
Speaking with “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin called the outbreak “a very unique situation that we’ve never had before.”
“This is the government has self-imposed shutting down large parts of the economy. And as soon as we can get the medical situation under control, we’re going to reopen it,” he continued. “And to the extent we’ve kept all these small businesses in business, we’ve kept workers with them, when we reopen the economy the economy is going to bounce back significantly.”
He expressed hope the stimulus package is passed Monday “because we need the money now.”
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win this war,’ he added. “I think this bill gives us a lot of money to create a lot of liquidity in the system and protect Americans. And if this lasts longer, we’ll come back again.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., highlighted some of her concerns on Twitter, saying that “Trump wants our response to be a half-trillion dollar slush fund to boost favored companies and corporate executives – while they continue to pull down huge paychecks and fire their workers.”
“This is a critical moment,” she said. “I saw up close the consequences of what Congress did in 2008. The current Trump proposal is far worse than the worst critique of Bush’s 2008 bank bailout. And it makes no long-term changes to make future bailouts less likely.”