What's the Status of the 'Phase 4' Coronavirus Relief Bill?
Do you want Congress to reach a compromise on a new coronavirus relief bill?
by Countable | 8.7.20
What’s the latest?
- Lawmakers are trying to negotiate a compromise relief package to support the economic & healthcare recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Heading into the weekend, talks remain at an impasse and the Trump administration is preparing to draft executive orders extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, eviction protections, and student loan forbearance.
- Talks regarding the “phase 4” package have accelerated with the expiration of the $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment benefit on July 31st, but not much progress has been made in bridging the gap between the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act put forward by Democrats & the $1 trillion HEALS Act favored by Republicans.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are leading the negotiations for Democrats. For Republicans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin & White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows representing the Trump administration & GOP lawmakers, and they're keeping Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) informed.
- Much like the prior coronavirus relief packages, a compromise bill will need to have enough bipartisan support to gain 60 votes in the Senate, pass the House with a simple majority, and be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
What’s happening in Congress?
UPDATE 8/7/20 (4pm EDT) - Partisan impasse on coronavirus relief continues into the weekend as talks fail to generate progress, Trump admin to draft executive orders.
- After a Friday afternoon meeting, the lead negotiators for the Trump administration & Democratic leadership in Congress signaled that they haven’t made progress in bridging the partisan divide on several key aspects of coronavirus relief, and that negotiations are done for the immediate future.
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said of the meeting that, “The president would like us to make a deal, but unfortunately we did not make any progress.” He added that they would be happy to come back to talks if Democrats have new proposals.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that “we’re far apart” and that she told Mnuchin & White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to “come back when you’re ready to give us a higher number.”
- Mnuchin & Meadows indicated that the Trump administration will begin the process of drafting executive orders to extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits, protections against rental foreclosures, and student loan forbearance. It’s unclear whether there will be any legal challenges against those executive actions when they occur, or whether those challenges will succeed.
- It’s possible that Congress could still vote on coronavirus relief legislation this August if a deal is reached. The House has been on recess for the last week and is expected to remain so through Labor Day unless negotiators reach a compromise, in which case lawmakers would have 24 hours to return ahead of votes. This week was supposed to be the Senate’s last work week until after Labor Day, but the Senate will be nominally in session next week with senators given 24 hours notice of votes.
- There will also be an opportunity to pass coronavirus relief legislation during Congress’s September work session, which is already expected to be dominated by work on spending bills given the beginning of fiscal year 2021 on October 1st.
UPDATE 8/5/20 (2:45pm EDT) - McConnell to keep the Senate in session for at least one more week while negotiations continue.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters on Wednesday that the Senate is expected to remain in session next week and may delay the start of its August recess even further so negotiations toward a coronavirus relief deal can continue:
“We’re certainly going to be in next week. We’ll see what happens after that.”
- The House remains on recess with lawmakers on standby to return to Capitol Hill for votes with at least 24 hours of notice.
UPDATE 8/4/20 (8:30pm EDT) - Negotiators haven’t reached a deal yet, but agree on a timeline for reaching one.
- While Democrats’ & Republicans’ four lead negotiators were once again unable to reach an agreement after negotiations, Tuesday did bring some clarity about when a deal may be reached.
- The timeline would reportedly involve continued bipartisan negotiations this week with the goal of reaching an agreement before votes on the House & Senate floor next week.
- The Senate was previously scheduled to begin its August recess this weekend, while House lawmakers began theirs after their final vote last week, although if a deal is reached they would be recalled to the Capitol for votes.
- The four key negotiators will hold a separate meeting on Wednesday with the Postmaster General to discuss what the U.S. Postal Service needs to cope with the expected increase in the use of mail-in ballots (either absentee or general vote-by-mail) in the November election.
UPDATE 8/4/20 (11:40am EDT) - Negotiators to meet again Tuesday in search of progress on a deal.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are expected to hold another round of talks about coronavirus relief legislation on Tuesday.
- Today’s meeting between the key negotiators is expected to occur in the afternoon, after Meadows & Mnuchin have lunch with Senate Republicans at 1pm Eastern.
UPDATE 8/3/20 (2:25pm EDT) - Speaker Pelosi says a deal may not be attainable until next week as negotiations continue.
- After a coronavirus relief meeting with lead negotiators, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reportedly told Democratic lawmakers that while she hopes they can reach a deal this week, it may take more time:
“Chuck and I are determined to get an agreement, determined to get it as soon as we can. My hope is we could do it this week, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration would be “open to a bigger package if we can reach an agreement,” and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) echoed that sentiment on the floor after the meeting:
“There’s a long list of things that are needed. And the good news, our Republican colleagues agree with a few of them, but some they don’t agree with. And we are discussing why we think they need them and they’ll counter with others in the room, Mnuchin and Meadows.”
- With the Senate scheduled to go on recess next week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said on the floor that senators should stay in D.C. until a deal is done:
“There’s no reason we can’t come together and reach an agreement this week, and get relief on the way to those who need it most. The Senate should not recess. We should not go back home for the August break until the next coronavirus bill is complete.”
UPDATE 8/1/20 (1pm EDT) - Negotiators cite progress but no deal yet after Saturday morning meeting.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hosted coronavirus relief negotiations that went on for more than 3 hours Saturday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in attendance.
- Attendees told reporters that while they’re still far apart on a number of key issues, they made progress in the meeting.
- Staffers will continue talks Sunday, with the four lead negotiators set to meet again Monday.
UPDATE 7/31/20 (12pm EDT) - House takes final vote of the week, adjourns as search for a deal continues.
- The House passed a $1.367 trillion "minibus" spending bill on a mostly party-line 217-197 vote Friday. It was the House’s final vote of the week and the chamber’s adjournment comes without a specific return date set, as the House of Representatives was expected to begin its August recess.
- Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated he will call the chamber back into session with 24 hours of notice at minimum to lawmakers so they can make arrangements to return for votes. Congress’s departure without a deal in hand means that the earliest point at which a deal can be enacted is early next week.
- Democrats & Republicans still seem to be far apart on numerous key issues. That includes $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefit, which officially expires today even though many beneficiaries got their last check a week ago.
- Twice on the Senate floor Thursday, efforts by Republican Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) & Ron Johnson (R-WI) to extend the enhanced UI for a week by unanimous consent were rejected by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). And off the floor, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the Trump administration was prepared to extend the benefit for four months at $600, but Democrats insisted it be extended through the first quarter of 2021 ― two months longer than the extension they included in their HEROES Act.
- The four lead negotiators ― Pelosi, Mnuchin, Schumer, and Meadows ― have a meeting scheduled for Saturday morning.
UPDATE 7/30/20 (11pm EDT) - President Trump outlines his priorities for a coronavirus relief package.
- In remarks during a White House Press Briefing on Thursday, President Donald Trump outlined four things he wants to see in coronavirus relief legislation that he would sign into law if Congress could pass it in a bipartisan manner.
- “First, we want a temporary extension of expanded unemployment benefits. This will provide a critical bridge for Americans who lost their jobs to the pandemic through no fault of their own.”
- “Second, we’re asking Democrats to work with us to find a solution that will temporarily stop evictions.”
- “Third, we need Democrats to join us to pass additional economic relief payments for American citizens, like the payments sent directly to 160 million Americans earlier this year, which was a tremendously successful program.”
- “My administration is also asking Democrats to work with us to pass $105 billion to help schools safely reopen.”
UPDATE 7/30/20 (4pm EDT) - Senate Republicans vote to start floor debate on extending pandemic unemployment benefits as negotiators struggle to find common ground.
- Senate Republicans adopted a procedural motion to start debate on a bill that would serve as the legislative vehicle for a to-be-agreed deal extending federally enhanced pandemic unemployment insurance benefits.
- The 47-42 vote was mostly along party-lines, with all Democrats plus Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) & Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed. Thursday afternoon’s vote is likely the last of the week, and with the Senate’s next day in session scheduled for Monday.
- The House is expected to be in session again on Friday before departing for a weekend that was supposed to mark the beginning of the chamber’s August recess. However, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that members should be prepared to return to the Capitol with 72 hours notice during the first week of August in case a deal is reached.
- With the Senate returning Monday & the House on standby, it’s possible that a breakthrough in negotiations won’t occur until next week when the bill could be considered by both chambers. But it’s not a certainty that they’ll be able to reach a compromise, as both sides are relatively far apart.
- After the procedural vote failed, there was another exchange of dueling (and rejected) unanimous consent requests from both sides of the aisle. Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) sought to pass a one-week extension of the $600 federal unemployment benefit enhancement to keep it active while negotiations continue, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected to. Schumer then repeated his UC request that the Senate pass Democrats’ HEROES Act, which McSally objected to.
UPDATE 7/30/20 (1pm EDT) - Democratic & Republican senators offer & reject dueling unanimous consent requests.
- With negotiations still at an impasse, senators from both sides of the aisle took to the floor to offer their thoughts about the failings of their rival's proposal.
- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked for unanimous consent to pass a bill that would extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected, and asked unanimous consent to pass the Democrats' HEROES Act, which Johnson objected to.
UPDATE 7/29/20 (3pm EDT) - Negotiations remain at an impasse, short-term unemployment extension proposed.
- The bipartisan talks over a “phase 4” coronavirus relief package have not yet yielded much progress. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that “we’re very far apart” and said President Donald Trump would support a short-term extension of the federal unemployment benefits to allow more time for talks if a deal isn’t reached by Friday.
- Politico reported that during a Tuesday meeting between Pelosi, Schumer, Meadows, and Mnuchin, the Speaker explained the differences between the Democratic & Republican bills:
“It’s like a giraffe and a flamingo. They’re both at a zoo. A dumb person may think they could mate for offspring. A smart person knows that’s impossible. That’s our bills. They’re unable to mate.”
- Schumer added that “a golden retriever can’t mate with a Chihuahua. You have a Chihuahua. We have a beautiful lion,” which Pelosi noted is a cat and thus unable to mate with the dog.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for the removal of extraneous, non-coronavirus relief provisions such as the $1.75 billion in funding for FBI headquarters favored by the White House, or the state and local tax (SALT) cut included in Democrats’ HEROES Act:
“Let me speak for myself, I am opposed to non-germane amendments. Whether it’s funding for the FBI building, or for example, in the House bill, whether it’s a cut for high-income earners in blue states, or other non-germane amendments in the House like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants. When we get to the end of the process I would hope all non-COVID related measures are out -- no matter what bills they were in at the start.”
What are some sticking points in “phase 4” negotiations?
- Unemployment Benefits: House Democrats’ HEROES Act would extend the enhanced federal unemployment benefit of $600 per week through January 31, 2021. Republicans’ HEALS Act would extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits at up to $200 per week through September, and in October replace it with a payment of up to $500 that’s designed to replace 70% of lost wages when combined with state unemployment insurance. Currently, enhanced federal unemployment benefits total $600 per week through the end of the month, but the federal benefits have been criticized for paying some beneficiaries more in unemployment benefits than they received at their prior jobs & creating a disincentive to return to work.
- Liability Protections: Republicans’ HEALS Act would protect healthcare providers, schools, businesses, and non-profits from COVID-19 exposure lawsuits if they take good faith steps to comply with local health mandates. Democrats’ HEROES Act would implement no protections for people who tried to comply with local public health mandates from lawsuits alleging COVID-19 exposure.
- State & Local Funding: Democrats’ HEROES Act would provide $500 billion in fiscal relief to assist states, $375 billion to assist local governments, plus $30 billion for tribal & territorial governments that could be used to cover costs or replace foregone revenues stemming from the negative economic impacts of the pandemic. Republicans’ HEALS Act wouldn’t provide federal funding to fill holes in state budgets created by the pandemic.
- Coronavirus Relief Payments: Both Democrats’ HEROES Act & Republicans’ HEALS Act would authorize another “recovery rebate” payment of up to $1,200 per adult, but they differ in the payment amount for dependents ($500 under the HEALS Act, versus $1,200 under the HEROES Act).
What are some areas of agreement?
- Assistance for Schools: Republicans’ HEALS Act would establish a $105 billion Education Stabilization Fund to help states with early childhood education, elementary & secondary education, or higher education. Democrats’ HEROES Act would establish a $90 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants to support state & local funding for elementary & secondary schools & public postsecondary institutions.
What were the prior coronavirus relief bills?
- “Phase 1” was the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R 6074), which provided $8.3 billion to fund acquisition of medical supplies and develop treatments and vaccines. It passed the House on a 415-2 vote, the Senate on a 96-1 vote, and was signed into law on March 6, 2020.
- “Phase 2” was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), which ensured the availability of free coronavirus testing, in addition to providing for paid leave under certain circumstances, and expanding food aid & unemployment insurance benefits during the outbreak. It passed the House on a 363-40 vote, the Senate on a 90-8 vote, and was signed into law on March 18, 2020.
- “Phase 3” was the Coronavirus, Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748), which provided an estimated $2.2 trillion in funding for a variety of initiatives aimed at blunting the economic impact of the pandemic & bolstering the healthcare response to it. It includes $1200 “recovery rebate” checks for individuals (doubled for married couples) that phase-out for wealthier Americans, plus $500 per child; enhanced unemployment benefits; $350 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); $500 billion in interest-bearing financial aid for larger, financially distressed corporations; and about $340 billion in financial help for hospitals & healthcare providers. The CARES Act, which passed the Senate 96-0 & the House on a voice vote before it was signed into law March 27, 2020, is the most expensive appropriations package ever enacted.
- “Phase 3.5” was the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266), which provided $484 billion to replenish the PPP and other Small Business Administration disaster loan programs; reimburse healthcare providers; and scale up COVID-19 testing and tracing capacity. It passed the Senate by voice vote on April 21st, and the House on a vote of 388-5, 1 present on April 23rd before it was signed into law on April 24th.
— Eric Revell
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