February 02, 2021

Senate Republicans Offer Details on COVID-19 Relief

As Democrats in Congress move toward using budget reconciliation to advance a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 response bill, a group of 10 Republican senators are pushing a more targeted and limited proposal that weighs in at about one-third of that amount.

The plan’s release came earlier in the day in which Congressional Democrats released text of a Fiscal Year 2021 budget resolution that lays a foundation for using budget reconciliation to pass their more expansive plans.

On February 1, the group released a chart summarizing the nearly $620 billion proposal before a planned meeting with President Biden. The group encompasses a mix of Senators including those who were working actively on a COVID-19 relief compromise last year and includes Senators Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelly Moore Capito (West Virginia), Todd Young (Indiana), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Thom Tillis (North Carolina) and Mike Rounds (South Dakota).

The proposal includes eight overarching categories the legislators think should be prioritized given the current state of the pandemic and economy. Notably, it would allocate $160 billion to support the COVID-19 response including vaccine administration, a “massive expansion of testing,” procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), restocking the National Strategic Stockpile and payments for healthcare providers, with a set-aside for rural hospitals.

Other provisions of the proposal include:

  • $130 billion to support additional $300/week unemployment insurance payments through the end of June 2021
  • $220 billion to allow for an additional $1,000 in direct payments, adding to the $600 that was included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act signed in December.
  • $20 billion to support reopening of schools
  • $50 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL) program
  • Funding to support nutrition programs and to expand behavioral and mental health capacity

With 10 Republicans supporting the proposal, there would seemingly be the votes to pass a package along these lines without having to resort to the budget reconciliation tool requiring a simple majority vote. However, the significant delta between the proposal and what the Biden administration and congressional Democratic leaders feel is needed at this time indicates that much negotiating remains to get to any point of agreement.

By contrast, President Biden and congressional Democrats are supporting a $1.9 trillion plan. Among other things, this proposal would include $1,400 in direct relief. It would increase the unemployment insurance payments to $400/week, increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, direct more than $400 billion to aid state and local governments, and allocate much larger sums for the public health response and to support reopening of schools.

This process will play out with Democrats moving ahead to write and pass a budget resolution that would include budget reconciliation instructions, a necessary step to use the tool to enact a COVID-19 relief measure. This may diminish the likelihood of bipartisan support if Republicans presume Democrats are committed to a significantly large package via reconciliation. Another complicating factor will be that the Senate is scheduled to hold the second impeachment trial of former President Trump in less than a week.

This process will play out with Democrats moving ahead to pass a budget resolution that includes budget reconciliation instructions, a necessary step to use the tool to enact a COVID-19 relief measure. This action may diminish the likelihood of a negotiation if Republicans presume Democrats are committed to a significantly large package via reconciliation. Another complicating factor will be that the Senate is scheduled to hold the second impeachment trial of former President Trump in less than a week.

 

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