As coronavirus cases in the U.S. continue to skyrocket, top congressional Democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to revamp stimulus talks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on November 17 asked the Kentucky Republican to join them at the negotiating table and reach a resolution for relief. The pair emphasized in the joint letter the need for Congress to “act immediately,” citing the country’s climbing COVID-19 cases and devastating economic turmoil.
“We write to request that you join us at the negotiating table this week so that we can work towards a bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 relief agreement to crush the virus and save American lives,” Schumer and Pelosi wrote.
Relief talks have yet again reached an impasse as lawmakers continue to argue over the overall cost of the next bill. Democrats are seeking substantial state and local government funding, while Republicans are pushing for employer liability shields, according to a late-October story in the Chicago Tribune.
The White House and Pelosi had been discussing a package between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion, but the talks fell apart leading up to the November 3 election, Business Insider reported. McConnell is now heading up an effort for a smaller, Senate-backed stimulus proposal as the administration steps back from negotiations, the outlet continued.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pelosi & Schumer Want McConnell to Agree to a Broader Approach
In the letter, Pelosi and the minority leader called on McConnell to rethink his targeted approach.
“Earlier this year during negotiations with Secretary Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Meadows, we agreed to compromise on a relief package and lowered our request by $1.2 trillion,” they said. “Since that time, you have lowered your proposal from $1 trillion to $500 billion, despite the consensus from economists and experts that the country requires a much larger injection of aid.”
The Democrats claimed that substantial aid is needed for schools, small businesses and “individuals where the virus has torn through communities and left many stranded without help.” They also cited hospitals and government funding for essential workers to distribute vaccines.
“For the sake of the country, we ask that you come to the table and work with us to produce an agreement that meets America’s needs in this critical time,” Pelosi and Schumer stated.
Pelosi & Schumer Noted That Critical Unemployment Benefits Are Set to Expire at the End of the Year
In their November 17 letter, Pelosi and Schumer noted that “critical unemployment benefits” are set to expire at the end of December.
“Our small businesses and state, local and tribal governments are warning of dramatic closures and cuts if the Congress does not act immediately,” they said.
According to CNET, millions of unemployed Americans depend on pandemic relief created under the March CARES Act, including larger checks.
“The problem is, the last group of benefits expire on Dec. 31, 2020,” the outlet reported. “While president-elect Joe Biden has a plan to address the recovery of the US economy, he won’t be able to do anything until the Jan. 20 inauguration (everything we know about that so far).”
Pelosi and Schumer said those at risk of losing their benefits will face eviction and hunger, and “demand action from their leaders.”
Schumer Recently Slammed McConnell for Becoming ‘Dr. No of COVID’ But McConnell Accused Democrats of Wanting a ‘Massive Slush Fund’
McConnell has fired back at the Democratic criticism.
“Democrats still want coronavirus relief for the entire country held hostage over a massive slush fund for their own use,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, according to MassLive.
In particular, he has criticized Democratic insistence on aid to state and local governments, saying, according to MassLive, that Democrats want “huge sums of money for state and city governments with no linkage to demonstrated COVID needs.”
Schumer blasted his Republican counterpart on November 15 for halting negotiations over his unwillingness to compromise on a substantial package.
The Senate minority leader during a press conference called McConnell the “Dr. No” of negotiations.
“The bottom line is very simple: we need a large, strong COVID bill to deal with our problems,” Schumer said. “We have heard for months, every time we get close to a deal, Senator McConnell says no, he has become the Doctor No of COVID, just like he has been the Doctor No of all the bills in the Senate over the last several years.”
He claimed that McConnell’s plan for a targeted package, similar to Senate Republicans’ previous $500 billion proposal, “virtually has no specifics.”
CNBC reported that McConnell wants to use the GOP’s failed proposal, blocked by Senate Democrats before the election, as a blueprint for immediate stimulus legislation. He tweeted on November 11 that a massive stimulus bill is not necessary to reboot the economy.