WASHINGTON — More direct cash payments will likely be coming to US residents this summer as both parties now support including them in the next federal coronavirus aid bill.
US residents with a Social Security number received up to $1,200 in March when Congress passed its last major coronavirus bill, the CARES Act. Congress is starting to negotiate a new aid bill and is deeply divided on practically every issue. But direct cash payments are a rare case where they agree.
“We do envision direct checks again,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday about the Republican plan currently being drafted behind closed doors. He said the stimulus checks have “fairly significant support” in his caucus.
Democrats are already on board with a second round of checks. Their starting proposal, the Heroes Act, includes $1,200 per US resident up to $6,000 per household.
The only debate now seems to be how big the checks will be. McConnell did not say whether his proposal would stick with the maximum of $1,200-per-person status quo or go with a new number.
Much more contentious is the $600-per-week federal unemployment benefit, which Congress also set up in March in response to the pandemic and is set to expire this weekend. McConnell said his caucus “overwhelmingly” opposes extending the program as is because they see it as too generous and a disincentive to return to work.
But the party is debating extending the unemployment benefits at a lower rate, and possibly tacking on a bonus payment for people who return to the workforce.
Other major proposals are even more contentious. Trump’s White House wants to cut payroll taxes — the deductions workers and employers pay to fund Social Security and Medicare — to stimulate the economy. But Senate Republicans are pushing back and broadly prefer the direct payments route. Party officials spent Tuesday negotiating their plan on Capitol Hill, which would in itself only be the starting point for bipartisan negotiations.
The talks turned publicly heated when Sen. Rand Paul stormed out of a meeting Tuesday to blast his own party over its roughly $1 trillion aid package.
“They’re talking about spending another trillion dollars. It’s fiscally irresponsible and they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “There should be a law that says they’re no longer allowed to say they care about the debt. This is insane, we are ruining the country.”
The biggest sticking point of all could be liability protection for businesses. McConnell has repeatedly vowed that he will not put any coronavirus aid bill to the floor unless it includes broad provisions to shield businesses from being sued by workers or customers who contract COVID-19. Democrats remain steadfastly opposed to the idea, calling it a blank check for businesses to provide unsafe working conditions.
“The bottom line is McConnell’s bill is extreme. It’s been written by lobbyists and big shot corporate interests,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Other major items being discussed include aid for state and local governments, aid for schools, and funding for coronavirus testing and contact tracing. Despite early talk of passing a bill by the end of July, that deadline will almost certainly not be met as bipartisan negotiations still have not begun.