Senate kicks off stimulus negotiations

Mar 20, 2020
In The News

Senate kicks off stimulus negotiations

Written by Melanie Zanona
Published by Politico 

RESCUE DOWN UNDER — And we have an opening bid. The Senate GOP unveiled a $1 trillion-dollar stimulus package to salvage the staggering economy and assist individuals and industries ravaged by the coronavirus, teeing up what could be days of negotiations in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has made clear the chamber won’t leave until they’re done, has invited Republican and Democratic negotiators to sit down with Trump officials at 10 a.m. this morning to begin “member-level” discussions on the package and bridge the gap between the two sides — and perhaps get more buy-in from their own parties as well. McConnell defended the process, telling CNN’s Dana Bash that this is the “quickest way to get it done.”

But one member is opting to sit out: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, will not attend the meeting because he is “taking the advice of Ohio Health Director Acton and Governor DeWine to practice social distancing,” according to his office. His office said he’s stayed in close touch throughout the week by phone with Senate Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to work on a bipartisan package.

Related: “Coronavirus response hinges on McConnell and Schumer,” by Marianne, Andrew and Bres: https://politi.co/396QYsC.

THE DEETS … The Senate GOP proposal would provide direct payments to qualified individuals and families with checks of up to $1,200 and $2,400, based on income. In addition, the proposal gives small businesses $300 billion in federally guaranteed loans, includes tax relief provisions to help businesses avoid layoffs and account for the drop in demand for services, and $200 billion in loans for hard-hit industries, including the airline industry.

Related: “Who wins in the Senate GOP’s big bailout,” from Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes: https://politi.co/2J2EpUC.

THE REACTION … Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put out a joint statement making clear they want to see significant changes. “We are beginning to review Senator McConnell’s proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers,” they said. Even some Republicans took issue with the plan, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who is opposed to the cash payments and has lobbied President Donald Trump to reject the idea. But even though GOP lawmakers may have issues with pieces of the proposal, that doesn’t mean they won’t get on board with the final product. And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced on a conference call he would be remotely whipping in favor of the bill.

Related: “House Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus,” via The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis: https://bit.ly/399dQrk.

THE TIMELINE … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters in the Capitol that they’re aiming to wrap things up by early next week. “Our objective is to have Congress pass legislation on Monday and have the president sign it,” he said. But that is an ambitious timeline that would take a lot of cooperation — and perhaps a unanimous consent agreement from the House. While there is a lot of hope they can strike a bipartisan deal and won’t need to drag House lawmakers back to Washington, any one member can object to a UC request. One idea floated by some lawmakers and aides: members can just formally enter into the record how they would have voted on the bill. All the latest from Bres and Marianne: https://politi.co/3bdBhRP.

Related: “Virus poses a test: Can fractured Washington still ‘go big’?” by The AP’s Lisa Mascaro and Andrew Taylor: https://bit.ly/3dcVFVb.

COVID CONCERNS — Anxiety is growing in the Capitol now that two members have tested positive for coronavirus – and pressure is growing on leadership to enact a remote voting plan. Both House Democrats and Republicans debated the idea during separate conference calls on Thursday. House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told members that he would review options on remote voting, while several GOP lawmakers — including Reps. Elise Stefanik, Rick Crawford and Liz Cheney — spoke up in favor of the idea.

But there is still a lot of skepticism. Not only are there security concerns, but there are also questions about logistics: it would be a massive and time-consuming undertaking to stand up a remote voting system. And past leaders have entertained the idea during times of national crises, including after the Sept. 11 attacks, only to dismiss it out of concern that it would fundamentally alter the institution and could signal a lack of confidence in the nation’s governing body.

Instead, leadership is exploring ways to limit physical interactions and keep lawmakers safe in the Capitol. “I share the concerns of many Members regarding the number of Members on the House Floor at any one time. I therefore expect that the House will adjust our voting procedures,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to his colleagues. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told his troops on a conference call that lawmakers can vote in small groups and wear masks on the floor. But there is a lot of hope they won’t even need to bring lawmakers back to Washington if they find unanimous agreement on the stimulus package. The dispatch from Sarah, your Huddle host and Heather: https://politi.co/2WwYElg.

Related: “Coronavirus Is in the Capitol. Some Lawmakers Think They Shouldn’t Be,” by NYT’s Nicholas Fandos: https://nyti.ms/2WwP3eq; and “Who are the lawmakers who have coronavirus, or have self-quarantined for it?” per WaPo: https://wapo.st/3b8ve0I.

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