Previous Covid-19 Aid Talks
Before the election, Republicans in Congress appeared determined to let the American people suffer. Months of contentious negotiations for a robust new coronavirus bill went nowhere. Now, with CARES Act programs set to expire on December 26th, Congress is again tuning their attention to coronavirus stimulus.
Republicans and Democrats rarely operate on the same wavelength, and talks began to stall at the end of last week due to provisions neither side wanted to give up. The difference in those provisions? Democrats are fighting to include benefits for millions of Americans, while Republicans are fighting to benefit corporations. As negotiations dissolve, the Senate runoffs are the Democrat’s best chance to pass meaningful coronavirus relief.
In the spring, Congress managed to come together, much like after the 2008 economic crash. They passed legislation that helped keep the country afloat while the pandemic ravaged the economy. After the CARES Act passed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) assured the American people that a new coronavirus bill would come “in about a month or so.” That was nine months ago, and still, Congress is at an impasse on coronavirus relief.
Current Covid-19 Aid Talks
In November, Mitch McConnell seemed more amenable to a deal than he had been previously. His sudden change of heart, however, was not because he suddenly grew one. It’s because of coronavirus relief programs’ looming expiration and its impact on GA runoffs.
Additionally, the Senate had to negotiate on a government funding bill that was due December 11th. Lawmakers began generating momentum for adding coronavirus relief to this bill. Congress’s inability to agree last week on this new initiative resulted in passing a stopgap one-week extension of the government funding bill so talks could continue.
Why are House Democrats and Senate Republicans still crossing antlers? It’s because Mitch McConnell’s tolerance for compromise is far less than what it was this summer when the Senate proposed a bill worth $1 trillion. A bipartisan group of Senators disclosed a $908 billion bill, a compromise from House Democrats’ last bill of $2.2 trillion and Senate Republicans’ “skinny” bill of $650 billion.
However, that compromise was not enough for McConnell, who undermined the bill by circulating new terms to his caucus that he claimed Trump would be willing to sign into law. His partisan version of the bill is highly scaled back and nearly identical to the legislation he failed to advance twice in the fall. It also ignores most of the demands made by Democrats and moderates, including aid to states and additional unemployment benefits. This version also failed with members of both parties.
Stipulations Under Negotiation
There are two points of contention between parties. The first is over blanket liability protection for corporations, something Republicans fiercely support to keep big PAC donors happy. The second is state and local government aid supported by Democrats. Assistance is necessary for states whose budgets were decimated by the pandemic so that they don’t have to make cuts by firing government employees like firefighters, police, and teachers. It would also allow states to provide proper PPE and other necessary equipment for hospitals and schools, among other things.
Republicans oppose this initiative because they blame state budgetary issues on “blue states” who chose to take the pandemic seriously by enforcing stricter restrictions. These restrictions have been shown to decrease infection rates. The irony in their argument is not lost after their furious opposition to police defunding during Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
Last week, McConnell stalled relief discussions yet again. He agreed to back off corporate liability if Democrats agreed to back off state and local government aid. The Senate Majority Leader felt Democrats should concede some of their demands for both sides to agree.
The problem is Democrats have already conceded much more than Republicans from their $3 trillion package, but Republicans seem to forget that. Moreover, the purpose of this package is to provide relief to struggling Americans, not protection for corporations so they can continue to profit off of the pandemic.
The New Bipartisan Dual Bill
On Monday of this week, the same bipartisan group that included Joe Manchin (D., Wv) and Susan Collins (R., Me) unveiled a new pair of Covid relief bills. On paper, these bills total $748 billion and $160 billion, respectively. The first would give $300 billion to small businesses, extend unemployment insurance for 16 weeks after Christmas, and add $300/week for the jobless benefit expansion program, among other things. Notably absent were direct payments. However, this legislation contains $560 billion in offsets from the CARES Act, providing only $188 billion in new money.
The second bill gives $160 billion to state and local governments. Together with the first, it includes a total of $348 billion in new money. That’s down 88% from the House’s HEROES Act in May and down 37% from the bill proposed by Senate Republicans in July. This legislation’s dual nature allows Congress to vote for the first while shelving the second.
New $900 Billion Covid-19 Relief Package
As talks continued this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt) and Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo) pushed for direct payments to Americans. Mitch McConnell also decided to reconsider his position on the matter after realizing its impact on GA runoffs.
Lawmakers have currently agreed upon including $600 direct checks to create a bipartisan $900 billion deal. This package will also extend jobless aid by ten weeks, gives $330 billion to small businesses, and sets aside money for vaccine distribution, among other programs. Congressional leadership decided to exclude corporate liability and state and local funding in this legislation.
On Friday, Congress had to postpone the government shutdown deadline because Republicans invented another issue to delay Covid-19 relief. They now want to cut off the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority, created by the CRARES Act, to avoid an economic collapse. Democrats say that this 11th-hour effort crusaded by Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa) would curtail the incoming Biden administration.
This new demand forced lawmakers to pass a two-day government funding extension so that discussions could continue. Legislation must pass on Sunday by midnight to avoid a shutdown. After nine months of negotiations, Republicans still refuse to put the American people’s interests above their own. Below is a timeline of Covid relief talks since passing the CARES Act in March.
Timeline of Covid-19 Stimulus Talks So Far:
- April 24th: Trump signs the CARES Act.
- May 15th: House passes HEROES Act worth $3 trillion.
- May 29th: McConnel assures Americans another bill is on the way (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
- July 27th: The Senate introduces a bill worth $1 trillion, but it goes nowhere (Republicans can’t agree on terms).
- July 31st: Federal unemployment assistance of $600 per week expires.
- August 8th: Trump signs executive orders aimed at coronavirus relief that included $400 for state unemployment, but the program takes time to implement. On August 12th Trump cuts $400 to $300.
- September 10th: A much slimmer coronavirus bill of $650 billion (including $350 billion from unused coronavirus funds) fails to gain enough Senate votes. This plan did not include direct payments. Democrats voted against it because they believed a much larger bill was necessary.
- October 1st: House passes an updated version of the HEROES bill worth 2.2 trillion to compromise with republicans. Republicans rejected it in the Senate.
- October 10th: Trump makes $1.8 trillion counteroffer to House Democrats. Included in the offer: direct payments and $400 weekly unemployment. Both House Democrats and Senate Republicans rejected this plan. Democrats thought the offer was too low, and Republicans thought the bid was too high. Talks begin to deteriorate.
- November 17th: Covid relief talks resume between House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
- December 1st: Mitch McConnel reiterates support for the $500 billion bill while a bipartisan group of lawmakers work on a $908 billion relief bill.
- December 10th: Mitch McConnel indicates the $908 will not pass the Senate.
- December 14th: Joe Manchin and Susan Collins unveil a bipartisan dual bill of $748 billion and $160 billion. The first is more comprehensive, and the second provides money to state and local.
- December 16th: Lawmakers scrap corporate liability and state and local funding for direct payments.
- December 18th: Republicans stall bill to include the discontinuation of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending power.
Republicans Worry Blocking Relief Will Affect GA Runoff
The media’s narrative implying that both sides of the aisle remain gridlocked is grossly inaccurate. There is one man who stands in the way of Covid relief, and that is Mitch McConnell. Democrats want to send more aid to Americans suffering financially. Republicans want to send less assistance to people and more to corporations who seek to keep costs down by refusing to provide their employees proper Covid protections.
As always, Republicans advocate for corporations to have more rights than people. Therefore, this isn’t a both sides issue. It’s yet another example of how broken Republican priorities have become. McConnell’s decision to resume talks had nothing to do with wanting to help financially vulnerable people and everything to do with helping politically vulnerable Georgia Republicans Senators.
In a phone call with Senate Republicans, McConnell admitted that he was now willing to consider direct checks because fighting against it has not helped Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue’s chances in the GA Senate runoffs. For beneficial legislation resembling the HEROES Act to pass in the Senate, Democrat’s only hope is for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to win those Senate seats instead.
An Easy Way to Contact Your Local Representatives
One way to combat this issue is to contact your local representatives. It’s important to exert pressure on them to include measures that you care about. An easy way to contact them is to text the word RESIST to Resistbot at 50409. Resistbot is a free messaging service that makes it simple for you to contact your representatives in two minutes or less.