The Eleventh Hour: The Bitter Beginnings of Phase 4 Stimulus

The Republicans’ opening bid, the HEALS Act, and the ensuing battle on Capitol Hill

The Republicans’ opening bid for a new stimulus bill came through Monday evening. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (or HEALS) Act, amounting to about $1 trillion. 

The bill the Democrats have in the Senate as their opening bid was passed through the House of Representatives back in May, and it amounts to roughly $3 trillion. However, the negotiations ahead will be strenuous. Considering the gap in the amount of funding proposed by the two parties, the vehement policy differences between the two bills, Republican intraparty conflicts, and the time crunch introduced from programs such as enhanced unemployment benefits having effectively ended, passing a new bill within the next few days prior to Congressional recess may seem nigh to impossible. 

Democrats have heavily criticized the GOP for how long it took to propose their bill as well as how their bill provides too little aid. 

Source: Reuters

To quickly review the Democratic bid, House Democrats had passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act mid-May. It includes stimulus check payments sent to Americans that are within similar parameters set within the CARES Act. It also extends the enhanced unemployment benefits of an additional $600 per week through January 2021. The HEROES Act also extends the suspension of student loan payments through September 2021, no interest accrual, and up to $10,000 of student loan forgiveness for some federal and private loan holders. It also provides funding for rental and mortgage assistance, hazard pay for essential workers, and direct aid for states and localities.

Part of the reason the HEALS Act has been introduced so late is that the Republicans have been experiencing intraparty conflicts concerning the stimulus package. In recent days, it’s become more apparent how divided Republicans are over the amount of stimulus the U.S. economy and its citizens need. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said over the weekend that half of the GOP would not be supporting the Republican bill, making the difficult negotiations ahead that much more intense. 

With less than 100 days to go for the 2020 elections, many Republican senators are under the gun to come up with a strong and decisive response to the pandemic. In their efforts to do so, they’ve somewhat distanced themselves from President Trump. For example, he has expressly stated he wanted to see a payroll tax cut, which Republicans have dropped. They’ve also rejected President Trump’s call to omit funding for coronavirus testing and to defund schools should they fail to resume in-person classes. 

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have led the charge to supply an additional $1 trillion to the chagrin of a small but vocal faction of fiscal hawks, most notably Ted Cruz. And yet even Tom Cotton has voiced concerns that failing to deliver the necessary aid will damage the party’s electoral chances in November. 

Because of this intraparty division, Senator Mitch McConnell will have to rely more on the Democratic vote to see a bill through, which will weaken the Republicans’ position in these negotiations and could have a real impact on the election outcomes later this year.