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Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding Congress send out a second round of stimulus checks for American taxpayers as negotiations heat up between Democrats and Republicans for a fifth round of federal coronavirus relief.
Earlier this year, Congress approved the Treasury Department to cut $1,200 checks to every American taxpayer, with extra monetary benefits for parents with children under 18.
Another round of the direct payments is “so essential,” Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, saying it would help individual families struggling to make ends meet and kick-start the economy as a whole.
“This is urgent. They need to buy food. These are necessities,” the speaker said. “And when people use that money for necessities, they inject demand into the economy and create jobs. So it is a stimulus, but it's more than a stimulus — it is a necessity right now.”
Ms Pelosi did not place a dollar figure on how much Democrats are insisting each stimulus check be worth.
House Democrats passed a sweeping $3trn coronavirus package in May that would send another round of $1,200 checks to each American and provide an additional $1,200 for each child in a household’s tax filing, up from $500 for each child from the first round of checks this spring.
That bill has languished in the Senate, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky dismissing it out of hand as a liberal “wish list.”
Both chambers of Congress will return to Capitol Hill next week, where the parties will begin negotiations in earnest on direct payments and other key coronavirus relief provisions such as more federal aid for states and localities, liability reforms to shield small businesses and health systems from lawsuits, and election security for increased mail-in voting operations.
“We have conversations on individual things, and Republican senators have approached me about individual [things], so they know there's going to be a bill,” Ms Pelosi said.
Ms Pelosi indicated several sticking points have already emerged in preliminary discussions with her GOP counterparts.
Republicans have so far opposed enacting more robust worker protections for employees returning to their jobs amid the pandemic, extending the rent and mortgage payment moratorium, and increasing food stamp benefits, Ms Pelosi said.
But the speaker expressed optimism the parties could quickly reach common ground on some other essential issues with Congress’ annual August recess looming.
“They've supported state and local government [aid], they've supported testing, they’ve supported direct payment, they’ve supported unemployment benefits,” she said of congressional Republicans and the White House.
Ms Pelosi has said she is willing to cancel the House's August recess if lawmakers need more time to negotiate a better deal, which would be a highly unusual move in an election year.
Lawmakers typically use the month away from Washington as a stretch-run opportunity to touch base with constituents and hit the campaign trail hard before Election Day.
Time to 'unpause'
Republicans hit the pause button more than two months ago on further federal aid to combat the Covid-19 crisis as the White House implemented the $2.7trn Congress green ighted across four sweeping bills this spring.
That soaring dollar amount, roughly 13 per cent of GDP, has prompted some concern among Republicans about mounting federal debt.
But White House economic advisers and GOP congressional leaders have increasingly signalled their willingness in recent weeks to engage Democrats on another relief package as the infection rates began increasing again in June, with several states run by Republican governors particularly affected.
"I’m predicting we will have one more rescue package, which we’ll begin to debate and discuss next week," Mr McConnell said earlier this week. "I think you could anticipate this coming to a head sometime within the next three weeks, beginning next week."
Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has said it has become "increasingly clear" the government will need to spend big again to bolster the US economy and health care system, which are both on the brink of being overwhelmed in many states as hospitalisations from Covid-19 have either stayed constant or increased in recent weeks.
Neither the White House nor Democratic leaders have signalled the two sides have been in serious discussions so far, though both acknowledge a deal ought to be in the offing.
“We will try to make it targeted. We will try to incentivize not just work — although work is crucial and going back to work. We want to incentivize investments. We want a pro-growth package,” Mr Kudlow said in an interview with Fox Business earlier this week.