A bipartisan group of House members unveiled a $1.5 trillion stimulus package yesterday meant to break a protracted negotiations stalemate. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the proposal, it has gotten support from an unlikely source: the White House. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said that while the $1.5 trillion proposal was higher than Republicans prefer, it was “not a showstopper at this point.”
Meadows also shared sentiments from a conversation he had earlier in the day with President Trump, whom Meadows described as“encouraged” by the compromise bill put forward by the bipartisan group, known as the Problem Solvers Caucus. After weeks of an increasingly bleak outlook on a stimulus deal, Meadows said he was “probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days.”
The bipartisan proposal put forward by the Problem Solvers Caucus was meant to catalyze negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The plan included a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, which have the support of both parties as well as the White House. The second stimulus checks were included in the HEROES Act that the House passed, but excluded by the “skinny” bill that Senate Republicans voted on, but failed to advance last week. It also proposed a $450 per week federal unemployment booster for eight weeks, followed by a weekly benefit of up to $600, but capped at 100 percent of a person’s previous wages. The bill included funds for coronavirus testing and contact tracing as well as $500 billion for state and local aid.
State and local aid funding has proven to be a key source of friction during negotiations, with Democrats calling for $900 billion or more in aid and Republicans proposing $150 billion. Meadows noted that the $500 billion compromise proposal still higher than what he thinks is needed, but that it “at least it gives us something to talk about, and I’m encouraged.”
Republicans had also reacted tepidly to the bipartisan proposal. However, President Trump undercut their position when he tweeted earlier this morning “go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!). That led to more explicit reactions from Republican leaders. John Thune (S-South Dakota), the number two Republican in the Senate, quickly warned that a $1.5 trillion proposal would lead to “heartburn” among Republicans. He continued by noting that a higher price tag would lead to few Republicans signing onto anything passed by the Senate. “So it’s gonna have to stay in a, sort of, realistic range, if … we want to maximize, optimize the number of Republican senators that will vote for it,” he added.
Others were more optimistic. “I think there is a deal to be had here,” said Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri . “My concern is that the window closes probably at the end of this month. We need to get busy finding out what we can all agree on. I think the number is gonna be higher than our trillion dollars.”
Whether the new bipartisan proposal break the Congressional logjam remains to be seen. Democratic leaders are still holding out for a higher price tag of $2.2 trillion while Republicans just passed a “skinny” bill that was priced at only $300 – $500 billion. But as Meadows noted recently, “there’s more we agree upon than what we disagree upon.” “I think it’s time we put politics aside, pass this stimulus, actually allow it to go to the president’s desk.” Most Americans would probably agree.