With pressure mounting on Congress to quickly provide new pandemic relief before the August recess, top White House officials said this weekend that Republicans are uniting behind a $1 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan they expect to release today.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday that Senate Republicans are on track to release a trillion-dollar proposal that will contain funds to help schools reopen, additional aid for small businesses as well as more direct payments for individuals.
"We want to move forward quickly," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows spent the weekend on Capitol Hill negotiating the GOP bill, which stalled last week amid intra-caucus disputes among Senate Republicans, including deficit concerns.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that several committees will release their portions of the bill today, including the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Finance; and Appropriations panels.
Absent from his remarks were any mention of the Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works committees, dealing a blow to calls for energy assistance and infrastructure provisions to hitch a ride on what may be the last pandemic relief bill enacted by the current Congress (E&E Daily, July 24).
The Senate GOP bill will serve as the opening overture to Democrats, who have slammed Republicans for hitting pause on new talks since the House passed the $3 trillion "Heroes Act" in May.
"We have been ready for two months and 10 days," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CBS’s "Face the Nation" yesterday. She added that Republicans are in "disarray" over pandemic relief.
The delayed start to talks come as the House is scheduled to leave town Friday for the August recess, although Democratic leaders have signaled they’ll return to pass another phase of COVID-19 relief if needed. The Senate is scheduled to leave town Aug. 7.
The launch of negotiations also follows the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits enacted earlier by Congress, as well as the end of a federal moratorium on evictions.
White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said yesterday that the upcoming bill will extend the eviction moratorium and add another round of $1,200 direct payments to qualifying individuals.
Pelosi noted yesterday that Republicans have supported funding the "Heroes Act" priorities in earlier relief bills, including state and local government aid, and extending unemployment assistance.
She criticized the forthcoming GOP package for capping unemployment assistance at 70% of a worker’s weekly wages.
"This is an emergency that maybe they don’t understand," Pelosi said yesterday. "I don’t know what they have against working families in America that they would keep this going so long."
Mnuchin yesterday also noted administration calls for Congress to pass an unemployment insurance extension this week, which he said could be coupled with liability provisions to shield businesses and schools from litigation as they reopen.
"We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues," he said yesterday. "And if there are issues that take longer, we’ll deal with those as well."
Democratic leaders have already rejected such a piecemeal approach to enacting new relief, and Pelosi yesterday reiterated opposition to the liability shield demanded by the GOP.
"What [Republicans] are saying to essential workers: ‘You have to go to work because you’re essential,’" she said.
"We’ve placed no responsibility on your employer to make that workplace safe. And if you get sick, you have no recourse because we’ve given your employer protection. And if you don’t go to work because you’re afraid of being sick and you have that job opportunity, you don’t get unemployment insurance.’"
She said, "This is so unfair."
Cash in energy tax credits?
While sector-specific energy assistance appears to be out of the scope of current relief talks, legislation introduced in the House last week aims to ease the pandemic’s cash crunch by allowing the monetization of an assortment of business tax credits — including the renewable production and investment tax credits.
The "Building Businesses Back Act," H.R. 7734, introduced by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), would allow companies to monetize tax credits for tax years 2019 and 2020.
Clean energy interests want changes to allow the ITC and PTC to be converted to direct payments, although Arrington’s bill responds to a broader call issued last month by major business groups for Congress to monetize an assortment of business tax credits refundable in response to the pandemic.
Arrington said last week his bill would provide liquidity for companies by advancing payment for credits they are already entitled to, rather than providing grants.
"This proposal provides timely and targeted relief by monetizing already earned tax credits through a time shift," he said in a statement provided by his office. "It is a simple and cost-effective way to get employers the support they need now, instead of years down the road, to save jobs and strengthen our recovery."