The Trump administration is considering taking “a number of options” without congressional approval as negotiations on the fourth coronavirus stimulus relief package are stalled between the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Fox News has learned.
A senior administration official told Fox News Monday that the administration is weighing taking unilateral action to quell the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the negotiations continue to progress as a snail’s pace, the administration is considering a number of options that might be available without congressional legislative action,” the official told Fox News.
At this point, it is unclear what item the administration could attempt unilateral action on, but much of the negotiations on Capitol Hill have come to a stalemate with regards to unemployment benefits.
“Those that are counting on enhanced unemployment need to be gravely concerned about the lack of progress,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox News. “My recommendation would be for them to call their members of Congress and their senators and ask them why they are not willing to compromise when obviously the White House is willing to compromise.”
Meadows added: “There are two things standing in the way to a deal on enhanced unemployment benefits continuing. One is Sen. [Chuck] Schumer and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the other is a negotiating tactic that puts people at risk.”
Enhanced unemployment benefits, which provided an additional $600 per week to those without work, expired at the end of July. Democrats want the next package to continue the $600 weekly payments, but Republicans are concerned that in some cases this results in people collecting more money than they earned from their jobs, disincentivizing them to return to work when possible.
The Republican HEALS Act – which bears a $1 trillion price tag compared with $3 trillion for the Democratic HEROES Act – provides an extra $200 per week.
In the meantime, Republicans offered to continue the $600 payments for one more week while lawmakers negotiate, but Democrats, who proposed their bill in the House back in May, rejected this.
Meadows told Fox News that Democrats rejecting the one-week extension of unemployment benefits was “heartless.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted that President Trump is “very concerned” about unemployment benefits expiring, adding that he was “surprised” by the Democrats’ refusal.
“They are insistent on having this as part of a larger deal,” Mnuchin said.
Meanwhile, Republican senators have held firm to some of their main priorities in the draft proposal, including liability protections for reopening businesses and schools.
Mnuchin defended Senate Republicans over the weekend, saying their delay in crafting a final proposal for a fourth coronavirus stimulus package was due to their review of the money already spent in previous packages, and whether that money had been used before appropriating additional funding.
“We’ve authorized $3 trillion into the U.S. economy,” Mnuchin said on ABC News’ “This Week” Sunday. “This has never been done in the history of time.”
Mnuchin explained that care was needed in order to properly take into account the competing interests of helping the American public now and protecting them from an inflated debt in the future.
Republicans in the Senate last week unveiled their $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill, called the HEALS Act, which stands for the package’s focus on Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools. The bill is the alternative to the House’s HEROES Act, the $3 trillion relief legislation passed in May.
The HEALS Act includes $105 billion in school funding, more than the House offered in its proposal, with the goal of retrofitting schools and universities with coronavirus precautions to open for on-campus learning.
It also includes a second round of stimulus checks at the same $1,200 amount as in the CARES Act, along with a “sequel” to the Paycheck Protection Program to mitigate layoffs.
Liability protections would be included for everyone from doctors and nurses, who would be protected from malpractice lawsuits, to churches, charities, businesses and schools, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted. The hope is that the protections will encourage companies to reopen without fear that they will spend years in court.
The bill also includes $16 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; $20 billion for vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic development; $20 billion for farmers; and $30 billion to protect the military and defense industrial base from the virus.