House Passes Updated Heroes Act While Negotiations Between Pelosi and Mnuchin Continue

By Katherine Goelz  

On Monday, September 28, House Democrats revealed a pared-down, $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package to reignite abandoned discussions with the Trump administration on a second stimulus bill. Since May, both Democrats and Republicans have attempted and failed to agree on a follow-up bill to the first stimulus package, called the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020. The original $3 trillion Heroes Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May, was stalled by Senate Republicans. In July, Senate Republicans proposed the $1 trillion HEALS Act, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never put the bill up for a vote due to opposition from multiple Republican Senators. Earlier this month, the Senate Republicans’ “slimmed-down,” $300 billion plan, entitled the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, failed to advance past the Senate, as no Democratic Senators voted to support the bill; one Republican Senator also opposed the legislation. On September 15, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan Congressional group, attempted to break the stalemate between House Democrats and Senate Republicans by proposing a $1.52 trillion Bipartisan COVID Relief Framework, but the effort was unsuccessful in bringing the parties back to the negotiating table. 

By Monday evening, it had appeared as though discussions on a second stimulus package had resumed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin restarted negotiations and agreed to speak again on Tuesday. The two met for ninety minutes on Wednesday, September 30, but unfortunately could not come to an agreement. Mnuchin projected a positive message on television that evening on Fox Business Network, describing his exchanges with Pelosi as “productive.” The two had come to a consensus that a second relief bill would consist of additional direct stimulus payments. The Trump administration’s proposed $1.6 trillion plan offers assistance to small businesses, restaurants, airlines, and schools. It also earmarked $250 billion to fund local and state governments.  

However, when Mnuchin spoke regarding the $2.2 trillion plan by House Democrats, he said, “We’re not going to do a $2.2 trillion deal.” He continued by saying, “If there’s a fair compromise, we’re prepared to do it.” During a phone call with House Democrats, Pelosi explained that the two biggest hurdles are the amount of aid for state and local governments, which Republicans called “a blue state bailout,” and liability protections for businesses that are being sued for COVID-19 related reasons, a plan opposed by Democrats. The House Democrats’ $2.2 relief bill contains $436 billion to fund state and local governments, a direct stimulus payment, a 15% hike in food-stamp benefits, $28 billion for vaccine development, $2 billion for personal protective equipment “for all industries significantly affected by” COVID-19, additional funds for Medicaid, and an expansion of the employee retention tax credits to prevent layoffs and furloughs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he is opposed to the new Democratic bill, calling it “outlandish” and overpriced. Due to the pushback from Republicans, Pelosi delayed putting the Democratic proposal to a vote until Thursday evening. The proposal passed by a 214 to 207 vote, with all but eighteen Democrats voting in favor of the bill. All Republicans voted against the bill.  

The House of Representatives’ one-month recess commences at the end of the day on Friday, October 2. Thus, it is clear that Pelosi and Mnuchin are almost out of time to finalize an agreement. Additional discussions between the two occurred on Thursday and will continue on Friday.  

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