A centrist bipartisan group is trying to break through the stimulus stalemate — and put pressure on Congress to get something done.
Members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday released what they viewed as an effective compromise offer amid the ongoing impasse between Democratic and Republican negotiators over the next phase of Covid-19 aid. The proposal includes about $1.5 trillion in funding, and lands somewhere in between Republicans’ latest $650 billion “skinny stimulus,” and Democrats’ more generous $2.2 trillion proposal (they’ve reduced their bid from the more than $3 trillion included in the HEROES Act.) The Problem Solvers’ plan is a product of efforts by 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans who make up the group, a number of whom represent battleground House districts.
Their legislative framework features a combination of priorities from both parties, including $120 billion for enhanced unemployment insurance (which covers a $450 weekly supplement for eight weeks, and some additional funding after that), $500 billion for state and local government funding, and $280 billion for another round of stimulus checks that mirror the earlier ones. There’s also a provision addressing business liability protections, a chief demand of the GOP.
Several of the lawmakers in the caucus emphasized that they were fed up with the inertia in Congress and felt compelled to suggest an alternative as millions of Americans continue to grapple with the devastating economic fallout of the pandemic. “Months of inaction have left too many at the precipice, and principle must overcome politics,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) in a statement.
The Problem Solvers’ plan also comes ahead of a heavily contested election this fall. These lawmakers hope to hold up the plan to highlight how they’re attempting to address the impact of the coronavirus as they face a significant push from voters to approve additional aid.
This proposal was quickly dismissed by eight Democratic House committee chairs who said it “falls short” of what’s needed, even as it underscored the urgency to take swift action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t indicated whether he’d back the proposal — though it’s likely that the cost of it is more than what Republicans in the upper chamber would be comfortable with.
On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House wouldn’t be leaving for its next recess — scheduled to begin in early October — until a compromise on stimulus was reached, but vulnerable members will likely still go home and campaign as the election approaches. House leaders would then call people back for a vote if a deal is reached.
“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said during a CNBC interview Tuesday. What this means for progress in the near term is still unclear.
What the Problem Solvers’ proposal contains
The Problem Solvers’ proposal, which is currently a legislative framework and not a fully fleshed-out bill, attempted to include some of the larger demands from both parties while pushing back against some of their respective concerns, such as Republicans’ worries about spending too much.
The plan also includes automatic “boosters” that would extend funding for unemployment insurance and a third round of stimulus checks if the effects of the pandemic are still severe in 2021. Below are some of its key provisions:
- An extension to enhanced unemployment insurance: The legislation includes $120 billion for enhanced unemployment insurance that would guarantee every recipient a $450 weekly supplement for eight weeks. These additional benefits could increase to $600 a week through the end of January if those benefits do not surpass a person’s previous wages. This provision does not offer the full $600 weekly supplement across the board as Democrats have pushed to do, but it is more expansive than the $300 weekly add-on Republicans included in their latest bill.
- A second round of stimulus checks: The Problem Solvers’ proposal contains $280 billion for another wave of $1,200 stimulus checks for adults making $75,000 or less per year in adjusted gross income. It would also cover another $500 in direct support for each child in a household that qualifies, as well as $500 for each adult dependent.
- Funding for state and local governments: There is $500 billion included for state and local government aid aimed at addressing coronavirus revenue shortfalls as well as added costs. Republicans had previously chafed at including state and local aid at all, while Democrats had pushed for upward of $900 billion in the HEROES Act.
- More small business loans: The plan would repurpose some of the remaining $145 billion that has yet to be distributed in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan program aimed at helping small businesses. It would also allocate $95 billion in new funds split between the PPP and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
- Funding for schools: A total of $145 billion is included in the plan, including $15 billion for child care providers, $100 billion for K-12 schools, and $30 billion for higher education institutions as they reopen and implement remote learning set-ups. Republicans’ plan had previously included $105 billion, while a June bill from Democrats contained $430 billion.
- Funding for testing: $100 billion is allocated for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, along with other health care costs such as telehealth expansion expenses for providers.
The pressure is growing on both parties to reach an agreement
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been deadlocked for months when it comes to another major stimulus package, so much so that there’s a growing sense more aid might not get approved until after the election. With both the current public health and economic crises dragging on, however, the pressure is increasing on both parties to make progress on new legislation.
As experts have previously told Vox, Republicans are poised to bear a significant portion of the blame for the current inaction, since they are the party in control in both the Senate and White House. But that doesn’t mean Democrats — particularly endangered House members — are completely shielded from scrutiny. According to an August CNBC/Change Research poll, voters in key swing states see both Democrats and Republicans as responsible for delays to the approval of more enhanced unemployment insurance.
The Problem Solvers’ proposal aims to get negotiators back to the table, lawmakers emphasize. It’s also one of the latest signs that moderate members in both chambers are among those eager for leadership to take additional action before the November contest, rather than after it.