Mnuchin and Meadows to discuss next round of coronavirus aid on Capitol Hill

Washington — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will meet with Senate Republicans and top congressional Democrats on Tuesday to discuss the next phase of coronavirus legislation, amid disagreements between the White House and Congress on how to address the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Mnuchin and Meadows will present the administration’s proposal for the next round of coronavirus relief at a GOP luncheon, before meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer later in the afternoon. The Republican proposal is still taking shape, but is likely to include another round of direct payments to Americans, billions of dollars for schools and liability protections for businesses.

Lawmakers and the White House are hoping to pass a new round of aid by the end of July, before Congress leaves for its August recess. Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday that she was “hoping for the end of the month.” Mnuchin said that his aim was to reach an agreement “by the end of next week.”

House Democrats passed a massive $3 trillion relief bill in May which extended unemployment insurance benefits, among other provisions, but Republicans balked at the price tag and inclusion of measures which they considered irrelevant, like increased funding for state and local elections. The bill also provided federal aid to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline workers, student debt forgiveness and boosted Medicaid and Medicare.

The meeting with Pelosi and Schumer comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy visited the Oval Office Monday to hash out Republican priorities for the next bill.

McConnell has made extending liability protections for businesses, schools and universities a key priority for the next bill, known as “phase 4.”

“We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic we’re already struggling with,” McConnell said at the meeting at the Oval Office.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell said the Republicans’ proposal would also “send $105 billion so that educators have the resources they need to safely reopen,” noting that the figure exceeds money for a similar fund for schools allocated in the House Democrats’ proposal. He added that he supports another round of direct payments to most taxpayers.

Mnuchin said Monday that the White House would like the bill to carry a price tag of around $1 trillion.

“The focus is really about kids and jobs and vaccines,” Mnuchin said.

However, Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday that he was unimpressed by the plan by Republicans beginning to take shape.

“It appears that the developing Republican proposal is really unlikely to meet the moment,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, President Trump has continued to press for a payroll tax cut, an idea which has largely been dismissed by Senate Republicans. GOP Senator John Thune told reporters on Monday that he believed a payroll tax cut could be in the “first draft” of Republican legislation, but said “there are a lot of Republicans who don’t like it for a lot of different reasons.” Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters Monday that he found the idea of a payroll tax cut “problematic.”

A major sticking point for Republicans is whether and how to extend a provision included in an earlier coronavirus relief bill which provided an additional $600 per week in unemployment insurance. The measure was deemed necessary as millions of Americans have lost their jobs in recent months. However, some Republicans argue that extending the provision, which is set to expire at the end of July, may incentivize unemployed Americans to stay out of work, as they may be making more in unemployment insurance than they did at their old jobs.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans would like to extend the unemployment benefits in a different form to avoid disincentivizing a return to work.

Congress passed a flurry of legislation to respond to the pandemic earlier in the spring, including a $2 trillion relief package. However, bipartisan sentiment stalled as the months wore on, even as the number of cases in the U.S. has continued to surge.

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