Top administration officials will head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a full day of meetings after some of President Trump’s priorities in the next coronavirus spending package met with bipartisan resistance, prompting one GOP senator to call Trump’s pitch a “first draft.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will meet with Republicans and Democrats about the tax and spending package. White House officials said they want to keep it at around $1 trillion, but Democrats have said they are targeting a much more substantial plan modeled after the $3 trillion Heroes Act that they passed in May.
Mnuchin and Meadows plan to meet with Senate GOP appropriators in the late morning to discuss Republican concerns about a White House push to cut new funding for testing, tracing, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White House officials have also expressed opposition to extending more aid to states and cities, an issue that has split Republicans.
The two White House envoys also plan to attend the Senate Republican conference lunch and meet separately with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow is also expected to stop by the GOP lunch on Capitol Hill.
There has been little GOP enthusiasm for the payroll tax cut plan, even though Trump has said he might not sign a bill that doesn’t include it. And GOP leaders are expecting a hard sell on Tuesday but appear unwavering.
“His advocates — Mnuchin and Meadows and others — I think will probably try and ensure that it’s at least included in the first draft, let’s put it that way,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters. “I just think it’s, in the end, it’s all going to come down to … consensus and where the votes are, and there are a lot of Republicans who don’t like it, for a lot of different reasons.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave some details of the emerging GOP plan on Tuesday.
He said it would include $105 billion to help schools reopen, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, and another round of stimulus checks. He did not, however, mention a payroll tax cut as part of the package.
Pressed by reporters about this omission, McConnell said “we’re all going to be discussing it, as you know the Secretary of the Treasury is coming up for lunch and we’re all gonna see if we can get on the same page.”
Mnuchin on Monday evening had told reporters that the payroll tax cut was already in the bill.
Trump has already enacted four laws that provided close to $3 trillion in new tax cuts and spending to try to help the economy and health-care industry navigate the coronavirus pandemic. The economy remains really weak, however, with an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent and roughly 20 million people collecting unemployment benefits. Lawmakers are split over what to do next.
After delaying discussions for weeks, the White House is now trying to rush talks in part because extended unemployment benefits are set to expire for many Americans later this week. More than 1 million Americans have filed new unemployment claims each week for the past three months.
So far, Senate Republican leaders have agreed to include some of Trump’s priorities in the proposed legislation. Trump has insisted on including a payroll tax cut in the bill, which he has said will allow Americans to retain more of their earnings. Democrats and Republicans remain cool to that idea, though, in part because it would not address the people who aren’t working.
In addition to the White House’s recent push to withhold new money for testing and the CDC, some Republicans have expressed opposition to the White House’s push to tie new education funding to decisions by school districts about reopening classrooms in the fall.
There are some areas of agreement, however.
Both the White House and Democrats have called for another round of stimulus checks, although they have not reached agreement on the size of these checks or who would get them. They have also agreed that there should be some extension of emergency unemployment benefits that were authorized in March, although House Democrats have called for continuing the $600 weekly payment through January, and White House officials and Republicans have proposed cutting the benefits back markedly.