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WASHINGTON – The clock is ticking for Democrats and Republicans to reach a COVID-19 relief deal after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a Tuesday deadline for both sides to come together to restore urgently needed benefits before Election Day.
Both sides are struggling to cut a deal weeks before the election. Democrats and Republicans are hundreds of billions of dollars apart in their proposals and unable to resolve major policy differences on COVID-19 testing, child tax credit provisions and funding for state and local governments.
Congress passed a comprehensive aid package in March, and many of its provisions have lapsed. The federal boost to unemployment benefits ran out in July, airline assistance expired in October, and Americans weathering an economic recession eagerly await another round of relief checks.
President Donald Trump ended relief talks at the beginning of the month, telling Senate Republicans to focus instead on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, but he reversed course, reopening negotiations with congressional Democrats.
Here’s the latest on negotiations:
How much funding does each side want?
Democrats want about $2.2 trillion in funding, and the White House proposed about $1.8 trillion. Senate Republicans are set to act on a $500 billion plan Wednesday. Trump said he wants more funding than Democrats and his own negotiators offered.
What do Democrats want?
Congressional Democrats have held fast to their $2.2 trillion proposal outlined in legislation the Democratic-controlled House passed at the beginning of October. They had initially proposed a $3.4 trillion plan Republicans rejected as too expensive, so Democrats lowered the price tag on their offer.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" that both sides had until Tuesday to reach a deal if they wanted a package passed before the election.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of the lead White House negotiators, spoke for almost an hour Monday afternoon, Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said. They "continued to narrow their differences," Hammill said, and are set to speak again Tuesday.
Both sides gridlocked over provisions such as the amount of the federal unemployment boost and aid for state and local governments. The Democratic proposal includes $600 per week in unemployment benefits, which Senate Republicans said would serve as a disincentive to work. Democrats want $436 billion in assistance for state and local governments, many of which have seen their budgets stretched by the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans fear such a large allocation of funding would add to the deficit and bail out mismanaged governments.
Some Democrats criticized Pelosi’s position, calling for the House to take the White House’s $1.8 trillion offer and use it as a foundation for more aid if Democrats win the White House, keep control of the House and flip control of the Senate.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said last week in a CNN interview that he and many other members of Congress believe “what is unacceptable is for us to go away with no deal.”
What does the White House want?
The White House’s position has shifted several times over the past month.
At the beginning of October, Trump halted months of negotiations, then reversed course, calling for standalone aid bills to provide another round of checks to Americans and relief for airlines. He reopened negotiations with Democrats, and White House negotiators offered a $1.8 trillion deal.
The White House acknowledged Senate Republicans are more unlikely to support a relief bill the higher the price tag goes. The administration has not publicly released details of its plan or text of proposed legislation.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, one of the lead White House negotiators, said Monday, “The Senate Republicans have been very vocal in terms of their lack of support of a number that isn’t even close to what the president has already supported at the $1.8 trillion range.” Whether enough Republican senators would support a deal is “up to Leader (Mitch) McConnell," he said, referring to the Kentucky Republican and Senate majority leader.
Trump said he wants a deal even larger than what his negotiators proposed.
“I want to do it at a bigger number than (Pelosi) wants,” he said Sunday, expecting Senate Republicans would go along with him if a deal were reached.
What do Senate Republicans want?
The Republican-controlled Senate is set to return from its recess and vote this week on two related bills, though Republicans probably lack the votes to overcome Democrats’ objections.
They will take up a bill that would reauthorize the Paycheck Protection Program for small-business loan forgiveness Tuesday and a $500 billion relief bill Wednesday. McConnell said Saturday their plan would include more unemployment benefits and more than $100 billion for schools and vaccine funding, among other provisions.
Both bills require the support of at least 60 senators to break a procedural roadblock called a filibuster, an unlikely scenario given Democrats’ opposition. The 53-47 composition of the Senate between Republicans and Democrats means at least seven Democrats would need to break from their party to agree to end debate and advance to a final vote on a bill.
Republicans are also unlikely to support more expensive bills. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the second-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill "it would be hard" to secure the support of enough Republicans to advance a package at $1.8 trillion or higher.
Democrats have refused to support standalone bills unless they receive guarantees a larger bill would be considered, and they criticized Republicans’ relief plan as too small to respond to the pandemic. Republicans attempted to pass a similar, smaller bill priced at about $300 billion in September, but Senate Democrats blocked it.
Saturday, McConnell left the door open to considering a larger package brokered by the White House and Democrats, saying in a statement, "If Speaker Pelosi ever lets the House reach a bipartisan agreement with the administration, the Senate would of course consider it."
Do any of these plans have more relief checks?
The Democrats’ plan includes another round of $1,200 checks. The White House has not released the text of its proposal, though Trump said he wants $1,200 checks. The Senate Republicans’ $500 billion plan does not include more individual payments.
What do Congress members say?
Some lawmakers are pessimistic. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told CNBC on Monday morning he would put the chances of a deal before the election at “50/50 at best, frankly,” calling the situation “frustrating.”
Pelosi told House Democrats in a letter Sunday she was "optimistic that we can reach agreement before the election."
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who introduced their own coronavirus relief framework in September, said Monday it was "unconscionable that it not get done" before the election.
"We can't wait until February. It's unacceptable," he said.
Some members of Congress are unhappy with the lack of input rank-and-file lawmakers get in the drafting of legislation.
Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, criticized the "bull----" of having a plan handed down from party leadership, noting that members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers were able to come up with a framework by negotiating with each other.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 aid updates: Pelosi sets deadline, McConnell pushes bill