Congress is at ‘square one’ after another week of no COVID stimulus package

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

Protesters demand additional federal stimulus and other COVID relief measures outside the National Christmas Tree Lighting, near the White House, in Washington, D.C., on December 3, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. During “The Senator Who Stole #ReliefForTheHolidays” protest, demonstrators acted out scenes from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” calling for coronavirus relief spending and blaming Congressional Republicans, specifically Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue. Photo by Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA.

Time is running out for Congress to pass another stimulus deal, something they’ve been struggling with for months. At the end of the year, in three weeks, some 14 million people will lose the extra unemployment benefits that came with the first round of COVID relief. Meanwhile, the U.S. is hitting records when it comes to new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

On the bright side, the Senate passed a one-week spending bill to avert a government shutdown tonight. It already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.

Mike DeBonis, Washington Post Congressional reporter, says the one-week spending bill represents the optimism legislators have over passing a stimulus package.

He says multiple plans are circulating through Congress. One is supported by Democrats and includes COVID-19 stimulus. Another is supported by many Senate Republicans and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. That bill includes some money for individual stimulus checks, but does not include unemployment benefits, which Congressional Democrats have been fighting for.

“We're kind of at square one. People are still eyeball to eyeball. There's just a hope that something breaks through at this point. But that hasn't happened yet,” DeBonis says.

He says the lack of support from many Republicans stems from a belief that stimulus aid would reward bad behavior.

“Their suggestion is that there's states that are in fiscal trouble unrelated to COVID, having to do with pension liabilities, unbalanced budgets, profligate spending. They don't want the federal government to be bailing out those states for reasons that are unrelated to COVID.”

DeBonis notes that Democrats are blaming Senator Mitch McConnell for the lack of progress on a stimulus bill’s passage. He says as Senate majority leader, McConnell has control over what bills reach the floor.

“He holds a lot of the power here in terms of deciding what's actually going to move forward, even if there are portions of this that have considerable support. If they don't have overwhelming support among Republicans, he's made clear he's not going to move forward.”

This week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley have teamed up in supporting a separate $1200 stimulus check for those who qualify. DeBonis says that amendment would cost upwards of $300 billion. However, he says those checks could crowd out other Democrats’ demands, such as enhanced unemployment benefits, transit agency aid, and small business stimulus.

“It's quite the open question whether $300 billion for another round of stimulus checks is going to be a puzzle piece that can really fit into the larger puzzle,” DeBonis says.

Moving forward, he says it’s unclear whether Congress will be able to pass a new stimulus package, but the pressure is on legislators to pass some type of relief.

“There's going to be a big effort to try and make sure some of these programs that are expiring at the end of the year continue and that there's going to be something done for those on unemployment who are at risk of losing benefits.”

Credits

Guest:
Mike DeBonis - Washington Post congressional reporter covering the U.S. House of Representatives

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Angie Perrin, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Bennett Purser, Nihar Patel