Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that negotiators hope to reach a deal on a COVID-19 stimulus package by the end of the week, setting up a vote next week that could extend federal unemployment benefits and put a stimulus check in the hands of millions of Americans.
While Mnuchin said the House, Senate and White House still had a way to go on a deal, they had at least loosely agreed on a timeline to come together on a bill that could be voted on next week.
“We are pleased to report that although we still have a lot of open issues—I just want to be very clear, we’re not at the point of being close to a deal—but we did try to agree to set a timeline that we’re going to try to reach an overall agreement, if we can get one, by the end of this week, so that the legislation could be then passed next week.”
The negotiations come as Congress struggles to land on a new stimulus package. The House in May passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which would cost some $3 trillion dollars and include an extension of the $600 a week federal unemployment benefit, money for schools and money earmarked to help state and local budgets.
In July, the Senate proposed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, which would cost around $1 trillion and include a $200-a-week federal unemployment benefit through September, money to help schools reopen and liability protection legislation for businesses and schools.
House and Senate leaders have indicated that they may be willing to move closer together in negotiations to produce a compromise bill within the next few days.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, seems to have softened on the idea of extending the $600-a-week unemployment benefit to move the process forward.
“Wherever this thing settles between the President of the United States and his team that have to sign it into law and the Democrats, a not-insignificant minority in the Senate, and majority in the House, is something I’m prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, likewise has acknowledged that the three parties are working toward an agreement they intend to complete by week’s end.
“We agree that we want to have an agreement,” Pelosi said Wednesday. “And in that case, we then say, that’s our goal — let’s engineer back from there as to what we have to do to get that done.”
What could the next stimulus package include?
Here are a few things the two sides are negotiating:
A stimulus check—If you are looking for a second stimulus check from this package, you will probably be happy. Both the HEROES Act and the HEALS Act provided for a check to be sent directly to more than 180 million Americans. The figure of $1,200 per individual adult and between $500 and $1,200 per dependent child seems to be an amount most can agree on.
Federal unemployment benefits extension—Democrats and Republicans have both talked about extending federal unemployment benefits, but the number each side comes up with is still far apart. Democrats want to extend the $600 weekly payment for at least several months, while Republican senators have suggested everything from a sliding scale of benefits over the next few months, to $200-a-week payments, to ending them for good.
Eviction moratorium—The president and Democrats have called for a moratorium on evictions. The Senate did not include it in the HEALS Act. Trump has said he could use an executive order to get the moratorium on evictions. Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have both expressed their desire to enact a moratorium on evictions that would last through the end of the year.
What about a payroll tax holiday?
Neither Democratic nor Republican members of Congress have been championing a payroll tax holiday, but Trump has.
So, can the president do anything about that? Yes, the president can order the Treasury Department to stop collecting the 7.5% in taxes paid by both employees and employers.
If Trump signs an order to stop the collection, that would be considered a deferral of those taxes and would require them to be repaid. But, he can also sign a bill that would forgive those payments permanently. The bill, though, would have to pass Congress.
What else can Trump do?
Trump has reportedly been considering taking executive action to address two dire issues: federal enhanced unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium.
Can he do that by executive order? Yes, he can.
He is reportedly considering just that if some compromised legislation isn’t reached by this weekend.