It's been 202 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 64 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill, both of which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to consider. However, for the first time since at least before the election, Pelosi and McConnell have spoken directly to each other, following Pelosi's concession to cut her demands by more than half.
Pelosi, along with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told McConnell that they would accept a $908 billion proposal worked out with a bipartisan gang of senators as their starting point for negotiations. McConnell answered that proposal, and Pelosi's and Schumer's offer, by rejecting it and slashing his own previous $900 billion offer to $500 billion. McConnell seems utterly uninterested in compromise, nevertheless he is allowing Republicans to continue on negotiating, with a proposal due Monday and bipartisan "teams" of senators apparently working on various sections of the bill that have been most problematic—McConnell's insistence on liability shields allowing corporations to get away with murder, and state and local aid which Republicans say are just bailouts to poorly run Democratic states, never mind that lots of Republican states have been clamoring for assistance as well.
Here's the starting point for those negotiations, though it's sketchy, a one-page summary with a lot of TBA. There's $288 billion geared toward "business" particularly geared toward small firms. That includes the Paycheck Protection Program. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) It would also have targeted assistance specifically for restaurants, something House Democrats have been advocating, and another round of Economic Injury Disaster Loans, smaller loan amounts than PPP offers. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin are negotiating the details on this part.
There's $180 billion for unemployment benefits. It would reinstate $300 of the $600/week boost to regular UI benefits from the CARES Act that expired back in July. There's some talk of making that $300/week retroactive, but that's not been decided. It would at least cover all of December and extend into March. It would also include an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed and gig workers through March. McConnell's latest plan offered $0 for UI and only extended PUA for one month, though he previously included the $300/week boost in proposals. Sens. Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley are working on this piece.
There's $160 billion to state and local governments to tide them over for a few months in the face of lost revenue and increasing demands. It's a drop in the bucket to what they need, says Lucy Dadayan, senior research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Institute. "It's nothing," she says. But McConnell and a number of Republicans are insisting on actual nothing, so there's that. So far, 1.2 million state and local jobs have been lost. Another 300,000 are at immediate risk.
That's most of the money part, including:
* $82 billion for schools and education funding;
* $45 billion for hard-hit transit agencies, including airlines, airports, buses and Amtrak;
* $26 billion for agriculture and nutrition assistance, which would aim to head off the enormous hunger crisis emerging across the country;
* $25 billion in housing and rental assistance to stave off a feared wave of evictions;
* $16 billion to help the government distribute the vaccine, probably a massive undertaking;
* $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service;
* $10 billion for child care.
What's not in it as of yet: what Congress is going to do about the emergency programs that expire at the end of the year including the federal moratorium on evictions, though that is expected to be in the agreements. Also, another round of the $1,200 stimulus checks even though Trump has called for it, the Democrats want it, and even some Republicans have been insisting on it. Including it would put the total bill cost over $1 trillion and Republicans are playing deficit peacock again, and are allergic to going higher. Which is self-defeating and ridiculous. Direct payments are not entirely gone yet, but something else would have to give. And there's nothing else to give.
The big fight is going to be McConnell's insistence on the "Free Pass to Tyson for Murdering Workers" liability shield, which is included in this gang bill, at least "temporarily" while states figure out something. It's bad. "The current framework in the bipartisan proposal is incredibly vague and I do not believe both sides can reach a compromise on this issue," Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen told the Washington Post. "No 'compromise' on a liability shield is necessary because we shouldn't give companies a way to escape liability if their actions sicken others." That has remained McConnell's precondition since the CARES Act passed back in March. He's couched it as help for universities, but he's really doing it for the Chamber of Commerce. If Democrats have to include it, they should call McConnell's bluff and limit it to just educational institutions. Sens. Dick Durbin and John Cornyn are working on this one.
With the Congress also having just one week to fund the government and also to deal with Trump's incoherent defense bill veto threat, it's a lot of work to get done. Looming behind it is the December 8 "Safe Harbor" deadline for states to have certified the presidential election and the December 14 Electoral College vote and the question of whether there's going to be a total Trump meltdown in which he allows nothing to happen.
As always, Trump and McConnell are making December as awful as they possibly can. Never mind that it's in the middle of an absolutely raging pandemic that's not just the worst public health crisis in a century, but is shaping up to be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.