After two weeks away, Congress has finally returned to Washington for what is sure to become a lengthy, contentious debate over pandemic stimulus funding.
Adding mounting pressure to an already high-pressure situation is the fact that the $600 per week federal unemployment insurance benefit is set to expire at the end of July. If that wasn’t enough, Congress has a planned recess for all of August, raising the question of whether the House and Senate would delay their recesses to pass an aid bill.
As a second deadly wave of coronavirus infections sweeps across the country, Republicans and Democrats don’t have much time to resolve their differences on several key issues ranging from jobless benefits and business protections to direct payments to Americans.
So what can the American people expect?
Major Players Meet on Monday, July 20
On Monday, July 20, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with President Donald Trump to discuss the developing relief plan.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the lead White House negotiator on past coronavirus relief bills, was also present. He stated he will begin reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan talks immediately and reiterated the Republican desire to begin with a relief benchmark of $1 trillion.
Following this morning meeting with the president, Senate Republican leaders will meet in the evening to discuss details and shed more light on how things might play out the rest of the month.
The Republicans Aim to Create a “Recovery” Bill
According to Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso, his party aims to craft a “recovery” bill rather than a “stimulus” bill this time around.
As Barrasso explained, senators will “help people get back to work and kids get back to school” while also saving lives by supporting testing, treatment, and vaccine development.
However, Democrats like Pelosi argue that a $1 trillion bill simply isn’t enough to cover the needs of the American people and economy as the pandemic rages on.
Major Disagreements Between Parties
The Democrats and Republics are far apart- in some ways, miles apart- on the issues central to the next round of pandemic stimulus and recovery. Democrats made their wishes clear in the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives back in May.
While Democrats are pushing to extend the $600 unemployment benefit either until January or until state unemployment levels fall, some Republicans are determined to let the benefit expire on July 31. Other Republicans support a modified amount or a revised benefit coined as a re-employment bonus.
The two parties also disagree on direct payments to Americans. Some Republicans are opposed to sending a fresh round of checks at all, while other support them in smaller amounts than the Democratis seek. Given that key players in the White House seem to support direct stimulus payments, some form of a direct check to Americans is expected, but nobody knows how much or who will qualify.
Another source of likely contention: education. Any new stimulus bill will include funding for education, but the two parties are sure to disagree on how to structure funds to incentivize school reopenings and support remote learning.
The bottom line? We all just have to wait and see.