Stimulus checks of $1,200 per taxpayer. Extra unemployment payments of at least $450 a week. Aid to state and local governments earmarked for coping with the coronavirus.
The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 moderate House members from both parties, offered their own proposals Tuesday in an effort to restart negotiations on new stimulus legislation.
“With so many people suffering, it’s time for pragmatic solutions, and that’s what this bipartisan roadmap is all about,” said New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus. “We hope it will help the negotiators recognize that there is hope for real bipartisan progress.”
House Democratic chairs, including Energy and Commerce Committee head Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist, quickly rejected the proposal, saying it “falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy.”
“When it comes to bolstering the public health system, supporting state and local governments, and assisting struggling families, the problem solvers’ proposal leaves too many needs unmet,” they said in a joint statement.
Still, others welcomed the proposal, which is designed put new pressure on both sides to find a way to come up with legislation so members don’t have to go home right before an election and tell their constituents hurting from the pandemic that they couldn’t do anything to help them.
“It’s helpful to show that there are Democrats and a significant number of Republicans in the House willing to meet in the middle” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist.
House Democrats have voted to spend $3.4 trillion but offered to cut $1 trillion from their legislation, which Trump threatened to veto. Senate Republicans waited more than two months and then offered a $1 trillion package. When they couldn’t pass that bill, they tried and failed to approve a smaller, $500 billion measure, instead.
White House officials, too, have said they won’t go larger than $1 trillion, and have joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in opposing any aid for state and local governments.
As negotiations broke down, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11th Dist., joined the rest of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of more moderate House Democrats in calling on both sides to return to the table.
She said the bipartisan problem solvers bill showed that a deal could be made.
“This demonstrates that compromises can be found, that bipartisan work can be done,” Sherrill said. “Members of the House want to find that solution.
Democrats won’t support any stimulus legislation without the state and local aid, and Malinowski said the problem solvers bill’s GOP support may pressure McConnell to negotiate over that issue.
“There has to be a reasonable amount of relief for our state, county and municipal governments,” Malinowski said. “My determination to fight for that is strengthened knowing that there are a significant number of Republicans who agree. This is the bipartisan middle ground.”
The pandemic already has cost New Jersey 56,900 jobs in state and local government, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research group. That’s an 11% decline, behind only Wisconsin, New York, Virginia and McConnell’s Kentucky in the percentage of public sector jobs lost.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNBC Tuesday that she would keep the House in session until a deal was reached.
“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “We’re optimistic that the White House, at least, will understand that we have to do some things.
CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage
The Problem Solvers Caucus proposal would provide $1.5 trillion this year, plus another $400 billion next year for extended unemployment insurance and another round of stimulus payments if the pandemic continues and a vaccine remains elusive.
If the crisis abates quicker than expected, then the proposed spending would be reduced by $200 billion.
Here are the highlights:
Stimulus. A $1,200 payment per taxpayer, plus $500 for each dependent.
Unemployment insurance. An extra $450 a week for eight weeks, down from the $600 payments they had been receiving until July 31 but higher than the $300 (plus $100 from states) that President Donald Trump has sought to provide through an executive order. That amount would rise to up to $600 a week, but could not exceed a person’s previous salary, and run through January.
State aid. The proposal allocates $500 billion for documented expenses and tax revenue losses due to the coronavirus. In addition, states would get more flexibility to spend $130 billion they’re already receiving under the CARES Act, but that money, too, is restricted to documented past expenses due to COVID-19.
Small businesses. The paycheck protection program would be renewed at $240 billion with small businesses allowed to get a second loan and receive more flexibility in how they use the money. The funds include $145 billion previously allocated but not handed out, and $95 billion in new money.
Liability. Senate Republicans and their business allies have demanded any new stimulus bill include long-sought limits on the ability of injured customers and employees to sue. The proposal would protect businesses that follow enhanced Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines while also requiring strict enforcement of worker safety rules.
Elections. With more states, including New Jersey, expanding vote by mail, $400 million is provided to help cover the extra costs.
Postal Service. The proposal would provide $15 billion, down from the $25 billion passed by the House in August over Trump’s objections, while also eliminating a requirement that the Postal Service prepay 75 years worth of retiree health benefits.
Schools. There is $100 billion for elementary and secondary schools, $30 billion for colleges and universities and $15 billion for child care providers. The proposal rejects Senate Republican efforts to target most of the money to schools that fully reopen for in-person learning and to expand taxpayer subsidies for religious and other private schools.
Health care. $100 billion would go for coronavirus testing, health care and Medicare.
Other aid. There are additional funds money for the Women, Infants and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (food stamps) programs, aid for those who cannot afford their rents and a moratorium on evictions through January, and a suspension of student loan payments through the end of the year.
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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at [email protected].