ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The U.S. Senate is back in session Tuesday after its summer break, but prospects of lawmakers passing another pandemic stimulus bill don’t appear any more promising than before.
While job growth has continued for four straight months, the economy has yet to gain back more than half of the 22 million jobs lost since the start of the pandemic.
Roughly 30 million Americans continue to collect unemployment.
Despite both parties broadly supporting sending another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to eligible adults, the two sides cannot agree on specifics or a final cost of a relief package. One of the major sticking points is unemployment benefits. Democrats also want to extend the $600 weekly payments that expired in July. Republicans prefer lower $300 weekly payments.
The Democrat-introduced "HEROES" Act initially came with a $3 trillion price tag. Democrats have since offered to come down $1 trillion. Republicans want something with a final cost more in line with its $1 trillion "HEALS" Act.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said Democrats are likely to willing to agree on anything smaller than what they’ve proposed.
“The speaker has refused to sit down and negotiate unless we agree to something like a $2.5 trillion deal in advance,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday. “Let’s do a more targeted bill now and if we need to do more in 30 days we’ll continue to do more.”
A 'skinny' stimulus proposal
Senate Republicans are expected to come to the table as soon as this week with a less pricey proposition.
The Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act is approximately $500 billion, or about half of the "HEALS" Act.
The new stimulus bill includes new funding for the United States Postal Service ($10 billion), additional funding for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education ($105 billion), money for COVID-19 testing ($16 billion) and an extension of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
However, another stimulus check is not included.
Also not included in the "skinny" proposal is any additional federal funding for states, despite new National Association of Counties research showing that county governments face a $202 billion impact to budgets through fiscal year 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida is currently facing a $5.4 billion budget deficit which will likely trigger a special legislative session to make cuts, the Miami Herald reports, because the Florida Constitution prohibits the state from operating in a deficit.
What about that $300 billion "sitting in an account"
President Trump on Friday called on Congress to reallocate $300 billion in unused coronavirus relief funds to send a second stimulus check now.
“We have $300 billion sitting in an account that we didn't use,” Trump told reporters. “And we are willing to use that.”
Trump did not specifically say where this money would come from. According to Bloomberg, a White House official said the money is part of a $450 billion fund Congress established for the Treasury to support emergency lending programs due to the pandemic.
He also claimed "there's a theory" he could provide the funds, but said he'd like Congress to approve it. It's not clear what theory Trump is referring to. The Constitution states Congress has the power to pull money from the Treasury, not the president.
One thing Pelosi and Mnuchin agree on, for now, is avoiding a government shutdown at the end of the month. They two have vowed to keep a government-wide temporary spending bill free of controversy. That measure is likely to keep the government running into December. It's likely to contain a bunch of lower-profile steps, such as an extension of the federal flood insurance program and a temporary reauthorization of spending from the highway trust fund.
While the Senate returns Tuesday, the House doesn't come back until Sept. 14.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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