WASHINGTON — With the economic and public health toll of the coronavirus pandemic continuing to mount across the country, members of Congress are debating another round of federal relief for individuals and businesses.
But it remains unclear how Democrats and Republicans will reconcile their vastly different proposals. They are staring down a tight deadline, with tens of millions of Americans slated to lose their enhanced jobless aid this week.
Senate Republicans and administration officials Monday unveiled a $1 trillion proposal, narrowly tailored to Republican priorities. It includes slashing by two-thirds the $600-per-week unemployment payments that workers have received since April and providing tax cuts and liability protections for businesses.
House Democrats in May approved a $3 trillion relief package that amounts to their opening offer: a sweeping measure that contains a number of Democratic priorities, including an extension of the jobless aid, nearly $200 billion for rental assistance and mortgage relief, $3.6 billion to bolster election security and additional aid for food assistance.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has said that she plans to fight for even more funding, particularly for schools, in negotiations with Republicans. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has warned against letting the price tag rise beyond $1 trillion, particularly as many Republicans question the merits of approving any additional aid.
While administration officials have floated the prospect of speeding through a short-term, narrow measure to address the looming expiration of unemployment benefits, liability protections and funding for schools, Democrats have panned that suggestion in favor of a comprehensive package.
Here are some of the main points of contrast that are likely to emerge as sticking points.
— Democrats want to extend $600 weekly jobless payments, while Republicans want to slash them.
The $2.2 trillion stimulus law added a $600-per-week supplement for those on unemployment insurance, but conservatives have argued that it discourages people from returning to work in certain states because it exceeds their normal wages. The House bill would extend the full benefit through January, while the Senate measure would severely curtail it, scaling it back to $200 per week. The lump sum would eventually be replaced with a newly calculated benefit that, when combined with state benefits, would be capped at 70% of a worker’s prior income.
— Republicans want liability shields for businesses, while Democrats are pressing for protections for workers.
House Democrats are again pushing for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish an enforceable standard, based on guidance from top federal health agencies, for workplaces to develop infection-control plans. The House bill would also prevent employers from retaliating against any employee who reports workplace violations.
In the Senate, McConnell has repeatedly said that he views strengthening liability protections for businesses, schools and hospitals that remain open during the pandemic as a prerequisite for any aid bill. The Republican proposal would establish a liability shield for businesses, schools and hospitals from facing claims over episodes related to the coronavirus.
— Democrats would allocate $1 trillion for state and local governments. Republicans left them out entirely.
Funding for state, local and tribal governments is the centerpiece of the legislation House Democrats approved in May. Democrats argue that governments will need another major infusion of relief to keep essential workers on payrolls and make up for the loss of revenue after decreased tourism and spending during the pandemic.
The bill unveiled by Senate Republicans does not have any aid specifically set aside for state, local and tribal governments, though it grants more flexibility for how states spent previously allocated funds. Several conservative lawmakers note that some of the money allocated in the March stimulus law has not yet been spent. Others have warned against states using the coronavirus relief to make up for preexisting debt and expenses.
— Both proposals would provide for another round of direct payments to American families.
Both proposals would again allocate another round of $1,200 direct payments to American families, duplicating a provision in the stimulus law enacted in March that would phase out the amount of money for individual incomes above $75,000.
But the Democratic proposal would allow immigrants in the country illegally to receive money, undoing language that prohibited payments to anyone who filed taxes jointly with someone who used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, a common substitute for a Social Security number. That number is used mostly by immigrants without legal status.
Democrats would also increase the amount of money per child to $1,200 for up to three children per family. The Republican proposal would maintain the $500 amount set in the first stimulus but also allow adult dependents to qualify.
— The Republican proposal would condition some school funding on reopening, while Democrats would not.
Because the Democratic measure was approved in May, before schools were contemplating how to begin another academic year safely with the virus still surging across the country, Pelosi has said she will now push for more than the $100 billion included in the package for education.
The Republican bill would allocate $105 billion for states to put toward schools. Of that money, $5 billion would be set aside for governors to use at their discretion, and $30 billion would be set aside for colleges and universities. The remaining $70 billion would go to elementary and secondary schools, with two-thirds of the relief designated for schools that have begun reopening and holding in-person classes.
Democrats have so far balked at the prospect of tying federal relief to reopening.