• Amber Thomas

48 Hours and Counting: Coronavirus Stimulus Talks Continue

Will there or won’t there be another round of coronavirus relief before Election Day? The White House, the House, and the Senate are still apart, but the gap is narrowing, at least between the White House and the House. Right now, the ball is in President Donald Trump’s court. On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., threw down the gauntlet and gave White House negotiators 48 hours to reconcile the differences between their proposal and the House-passed bill. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said yesterday he was hopeful an agreement would be reached.

Earlier this month, President Trump surprised many in his party when he pledged his support for a $1.8 trillion stimulus package only days after withdrawing from negotiations over the lack of progress. Even though Speaker Pelosi is under extreme pressure to move toward the White House offer, Democrats haven’t budged on their more expensive $2.2 trillion measure. Cost does not appear to be the dealbreaker, as the president has signaled his willingness to spend even more. The main sticking points are aid to states and a national coronavirus testing strategy.

Even if a deal is reached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not put the bill up for a vote because it’s too expensive. Instead, Senate leaders are preparing for a Wednesday vote on a pared-down $500 billion bill. This bill is targeted relief that includes more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), expanded unemployment benefits, and funding for schools.

AMT is advocating for two provisions in any package. The first, refunding the PPP, is included in all three packages. When the SBA loan program expired at the end of July, there was $130 billion in funding left unused even though demand was strong. AMT supports making those funds available immediately and adding additional funds as needed to shore up our small businesses struggling to make payroll and survive. Our second priority is liability protection for businesses against frivolous lawsuits exploiting the pandemic. This provision, included only in the White House proposal, would protect businesses that comply with the law and do everything in their power to protect their workers.

The back-and-forth between the sides has been going since mid-summer with little progress to date. The House approved a bill that clearly would not see the light of day in the Senate. The Senate answered by passing a bill that was unacceptable to the House. Voters are fed up, and rank-and-file members of Congress from both parties are frustrated with the inaction. Even Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell urged Congress to pass more stimulus, adding that there is little risk of “overdoing” it.

With the clock running out, it’s hard to imagine a large package before the election. But like Disney World, anything is possible in Washington. 

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