A White House stimulus plan that includes another round of direct payments to Americans has found little support among Democrats in Washington, narrowing the odds of a spending deal being reached in the closing weeks of President Donald Trump’s term.
One day after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin unveiled the $916 billion proposal, top Democrats on Wednesday called its allocations for stimulus checks and the unemployment safety net simply too small to meet the need created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said he was instead holding out hope a bipartisan group of senators could find enough support to pass their plan costing $908 billion.
“The president’s proposal must not be allowed to supersede or obstruct the bipartisan congressional talks that are underway,” Schumer said in a speech.
“That is where the real action is, and where bipartisan agreement on the basic concepts will ultimately be forged.”
Schumer and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had on Tuesday called it “unacceptable” that the White House plan included only $40 million to pay for unemployment insurance.
Congress has been deadlocked for months over passing a follow-up measure to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March to help the US economy recover from the mass layoffs and sharp contraction the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak has caused.
Dividing the two sides has been how much to spend, and what to spend it on.
Earlier in the day, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats and is influential among the party’s left wing, said Mnuchin’s plan was “unacceptable” in part because it provides only $600 stimulus checks to Americans — not the $1,200 given in the CARES Act.
“What the Republicans are proposing is grossly unsatisfactory,” he said in an interview with MSNBC.
“We cannot leave here unless we get $1,200 for every worker, and we get extended unemployment and we get adequate aid to states and cities. This country is facing a crisis, we have got to respond accordingly.”
Business shutdowns to stop the virus’s spread have led to tens of millions of job losses, and though the country is seeing some signs of an economic recovery, experts fear those could peter out without new aid, as Covid-19 cases hit record levels in parts of the United States.
The US Treasury did not respond to a request for details on Mnuchin’s plan but the secretary has said it includes “money for state and local governments and robust liability protections for businesses, schools and universities.”
The CARES Act passed in March included a host of provisions to keep the US economy afloat as the virus descended, including a program of loans and grants to small businesses as well as an expansion of unemployment payments and the types of workers eligible for them.
Most of the major programs have lapsed in recent months, and millions of Americans are relying on jobless aid programs paid for by the act that will expire at the end of December without a deal.
Democrats had pressed for a nearly $3 trillion package but are now considering compromises costing significantly less, at least to cover the period before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in late January.
The party’s lawmakers have insisted any package must include support for struggling state and local governments, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants liability protections for businesses.
The Senate leader had on Tuesday suggested excluding both of those provisions in order to reach a compromise, but Pelosi rejected the idea.