Mnuchin, Pelosi talk virus relief; GOP slashes jobless aid

Wednesday, 29 Jul, 2020

Democrats are seeking to extend the $600 federal supplement through January, setting the stage for a fierce clash with Republicans on unemployment benefits. Democrats say the stimulus package was too small compared to the $ 3 trillion package they proposed. Dissident Republicans criticised its expense.

The act would also grant schools with protections from legal liability, a measure championed by McConnell to discourage "insubstantial lawsuits relating to COVID-19" while "preserving the ability of individuals and businesses that have suffered real injury to obtain complete relief".

Some US stocks dropped as investors anxious about the resurgence in coronavirus cases and awaited progress on the relief plan. "Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said earlier today, 'I just don't know why we're doing this'". And generally, many Republicans are skeptical of spending another trillion dollars - or likely much more - on another stimulus plan. "Some of the Virginia people want to build in Virginia and Maryland Democrats want the new Federal Bureau of Investigation building built there", he said Tuesday before McConnell spoke, citing an earlier, failed proposal to move the Federal Bureau of Investigation building from downtown Washington. What Republicans are doing, at the end of the day, adds up to too little, too late. This represents a major drop in living standards for millions of Americans, forcing people to survive on far less than they had been earning prior to the pandemic and cut spending on necessities - with negative ripple effects throughout the economy, a gut punch to small businesses and communities. Republicans and some employers have complained that the flat $600 a week payment provides many low-paid workers with more money than they had received while working, making it harder for companies to lure them back to their old jobs. Their proposal would provide the US$200 weekly payment in place until states create a system to provide a 70 per cent wage replacement for laid-off workers. The President described a brand new building with a running track on the roof "because Federal Bureau of Investigation people like to work out a lot", all along maintaining that "there's nothing better" than where the facility is now located. So did Thursday. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks".

Not surprisingly, the GOP bill does not heed calls from clean energy interests for relief to help the struggling sector, which has lost more than 600,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic, according to analysts.

It also provides $1.7 billion for a new Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, a non-pandemic-related expense that's a top priority of the president but not of lawmakers or McConnell. White House Republican leaders - this is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows - are going to be meeting with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her office to really begin these negotiations in earnest. Zandi said that if the GOP proposal became law, almost 1 million jobs would be lost by year's end and the unemployment rate, now above 11%, would climb more than half a percentage point.

To pass the Senate, any bill will need Democratic support, even more so if Republicans vote against their own party's plan.

McConnell acknowledged that the Republican "HEALS Act" was just a starting point for negotiations, and would need bipartisan support to become law.