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Pelosi, Schumer blast $916 billion White House coronavirus relief proposal

The Trump-backed plan is said to include reduced stimulus checks for Americans.
Image: Nancy Pelosi Chuck Schumer
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speak at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 12.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have rejected a Trump-backed $916 billion coronavirus relief proposal offered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin's new plan, which landed on Capitol Hill late Tuesday, could boost prospects for an agreement, as it shows that the White House is willing to back a $900 billion plan. But it also complicates efforts, given that much of the focus has been on a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have been working furiously to come to an agreement on their own $908 billion proposal.

The House agreed to pass a one-week funding bill, which will head to the Senate, to avoid a partial government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to come to agree on coronavirus relief.

Mnuchin's plan has some distinct differences that Democrats immediately rejected. Unlike the bipartisan proposal, it puts forth a $600 direct payment for individuals and $1,200 for couples, half the payment delivered by the March pandemic relief bill. And while the proposal would extend federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire at the end of the month, for up to eight weeks, it wouldn't provide an additional enhanced weekly federal benefit of $300, which Democrats are demanding and the bipartisan group has endorsed.

To attract the support of Democratic leaders, Mnuchin's deal would provide $160 billion for state and local aid. And it includes the Republican priority of liability protections for businesses and money for the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which aims to give small businesses incentives to keep workers on their payrolls.

But Democratic leaders immediately rejected the proposal. In a joint statement Tuesday night, Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was progress that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had endorsed the cost of the package, but they signaled that the proposal was obstructing bipartisan negotiations underway among lawmakers. The Democratic leaders also made it clear that the reduction in unemployment benefits from what's on the table is something they could never support.

"The president's proposal starts by cutting the unemployment insurance proposal being discussed by bipartisan Members of the House and Senate from $180 billion to $40 billion. That is unacceptable," they said in a statement.

Mnuchin said he had spoken to Pelosi on behalf of President Donald Trump, saying the plan is bigger than the $908 bipartisan proposal.

"This proposal includes money for state and local governments and robust liability protections for businesses, schools and universities," Mnuchin said. "As part of this proposal, we will fund it using $140 billion in unused funds from the Paycheck Protection program and $429 billion in Treasury funds."

On Wednesday morning, meanwhile, the lawmakers negotiating a bipartisan proposal circulated a summary of their plan, which includes $300 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. But it leaves out the details of the two most contentious issues, liability protection and funding for state and local governments, as the negotiations have struggled to finalize the details of those complicated components.

McConnell suggested Tuesday that Congress move forward without the liability and state and local components because an agreement appears elusive, but Democrats and the bipartisan negotiators rejected the idea. They continue to work to reach an agreement, with multiple meetings scheduled Wednesday.

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The bipartisan proposal would also include $82 billion for education, $25 billion for rental assistance, $6 billion for coronavirus vaccine development and distribution and $7 billion for testing and tracing, and it would extend student loan forbearance until the end of April.

Meanwhile, progressive Democratic senators led by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., demanded that another round of $1,200 checks be added to the plan, with the overall price tag being $300 billion. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said Tuesday that he spoke to Trump over the weekend about adding stimulus checks to the package.

Congress is expected to take up a government spending measure that will extend the funding deadline by a week, to Dec. 18, to buy more time for the bipartisan negotiations.