Top Republican officials meet Trump to discuss COVID-19 relief package

Top Republican officials meet Trump to discuss COVID-19 relief package
Source: Reuters

On Monday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, California Representative Kevin McCarthy and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met with President Donald Trump to discuss Congress’ differences with the administration over the benefits of the second COVID-19 relief package.

The meeting comes after the administration refused to release billions of dollars that would have been allocated to improve testing across the nation and fund federal health agencies as part of the Republicans’ draft proposal.

Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday that the federal relief package will focus on “kids and jobs and vaccines.”

“We want to make sure that people who can go to work safely can do so. We’ll have tax credits that incentivize businesses to bring people back to work.”

However, the relief package is expected to be heavily debated between Democrats and Republicans. McConnell stated that the discussion among Republicans will begin in Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The Republican relief package is likely to be US$1 trillion. However, the Democrats want a US$3 trillion package, along the lines of one they passed in the House in May. Such a bill likely has little chance of being signed into law as it faces nearly unanimous opposition from Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans disagree on a variety of issues, such as the US$600 per week unemployment benefits for Americans, funding for schools, states and local governments and liability protection of businesses that remain open and workers who report to work during COVID-19.

Democrats have stated that if they believe the Republican relief bill is insufficient to fulfill the needs of Americans, they may block it in the House.

Democrats want to extend the US$600 per week unemployment benefits for nearly 20-30 million unemployed Americans, which are set to expire this month. Republicans, however, remain opposed on the grounds that the benefits may discourage Americans from returning to work.

Democrats also want to send aid to state and local governments, a provision that was included in their own proposal, but the Republican bill is not expected to include any new aid. Instead, their bill, which will be unveiled by McConnell, advises the state and local governments to be flexible with existing aid.

However, McConnell also faces pressure from Republicans facing reelection in their states.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters last week that she is seeking aid for the state and local governments. She also seeks unemployment benefits for Americans, although the amount can be the minimum needed to make up for workers’ lost wages.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado told The Washington Post that he supports the Democrats’ demand for aid for state and local governments and unemployment benefits, although he is willing to debate on an amount lesser than the US$600 per week.

While the Republicans’ relief bill is currently expected to include unemployment benefits, the amount has not yet been debated.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt for Missouri told reporters last week, “There may be a need for a broad-based payment of individuals like we did last time. But for sure, there’s a need to try to figure out how to have a more of a target in the recovery phase of the economy than [we] did in the March rescue phase.”

Republicans also want to offer liability protections to schools, charities, businesses and medical workers.

McConnell reportedly has a plan that legally protects these institutions against COVID-19 related lawsuits, unless they are guilty of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

White House officials are reviewing this proposal.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s involvement has presented difficulties. Trump has demanded that the Republican bill cut payroll taxes, which are deducted from employees’ wages and fund social security.

However, only a few Republicans support this demand and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has come out in opposition to it.

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