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White House Makes $1.6 Trillion Counteroffer on COVID-19 Relief

  • Treasury Secretary counters Democrats’ updated $2.2 trillion HEROES Act with $1.6 trillion package on COVID-19 relief
  • Reduced proposal retains stimulus checks along with enhanced unemployment benefits and new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program
  • Deal must be struck before end of the week to approve aid before House takes its October recess

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has countered the Democrats’ updated $2.2 trillion HEROES Act for COVID-19 relief with a $1.6 trillion proposal he hopes will win bipartisan approval. Any deal struck between Mnuchin and Democratic leaders still faces an uphill battle, as it must pass before the House takes its October recess and muster enough support in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mnuchin’s proposal hews closely to a $1.5 trillion package put forth by the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. It includes another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and matches Democratic requests for funding in areas such as food assistance and COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

The package also includes another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, allocating $160 billion for this purpose. In addition, it offers targeted assistance for hard-hit industries such as restaurants, lodging, and live entertainment venues, plus $10 billion for lending to minority-owned businesses.

Mnuchin’s counteroffer reduces funding on several initiatives put forward in the HEROES Act, but keeps their top line above what Republicans have previously sought. For example, it approves enhanced unemployment benefits of $400 a week through the end of the year, $200 less than the Democratic proposal but $100 more than Republican proposals. The proposal includes $250 billion in aid to state and local governments, $186 billion less than what Democrats seek in the HEROES Act but $100 billion more than what the White House previously offered in talks over the summer.

Following discussions on the proposal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mnuchin met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell previously criticized the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion proposal as “outlandish,” but reportedly said he might be able to pull together enough votes to pass the $1.6 trillion package if Democrats agree to it.

Republican relief proposals have been much more modest as they attempt to craft relief bills that won’t be rejected by budget hawks in the party. Several measures have come to grief as Democrats unsuccessfully attempt to persuade Republicans to raise their top line by $1 trillion after they reduced theirs by the same amount.

For any relief bill to pass, a vote must be taken by the end of the week, when the House takes its October recess. Democrats have indicated that they plan to vote on the HEROES Act if a deal is not struck, even though it is unlikely to pass the Senate.

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