Lawmakers may be making a little progress on the debate over a package that includes a second coronavirus stimulus check. However, they remain far apart on several issues, including pet projects both parties are trying to include in the next package — projects that have nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second stimulus check only agreement in package
So far it seems a second round of coronavirus stimulus checks is the only thing the White House, Democrats and Republicans can agree on for the next package. Despite the lack of agreement, Bloomberg reports that "a little bit" of progress has been made in the negotiations.
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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are heading up the negotiations for the Republicans and Democrats. Lawmakers sounded a bit more optimistic over the weekend, although there was little sign of any real progress.
Mnuchin said on Monday that they "made a little bit of progress" in the talks, which also included White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He also said the president "wants us to get a deal."
Schumer added that they still have a lot of outstanding issues that they don't agree in, although he believes "there is a desire to get something done as soon as we can."
At issue in the next package are the wide range of differences between the $3.5 trillion Democratic proposal passed by the House of Representatives in May and the $1 trillion proposal Senate Republicans offered last week. Even if lawmakers do reach an agreement this week, the Senate and House probably won't vote on it until next week.
The Senate is set to leave for its August recess at the end of the week, and the House has already left for its August recess. However, the House has been told to be ready to return to Washington to vote on a stimulus package if an agreement is reached.
Trump considers executive action
The second coronavirus stimulus check isn't the top priority for the next package even though it seems to be the only area all sides agree on. President Donald Trump said he was thinking about taking executive action on some provisions since Congress can't come to an agreement.
Specifically, he's thinking about restoring the moratorium on evictions, which expired along with the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits. He's also thinking about suspending payroll taxes, which is something he has been pushing for in the next package, although lawmakers from both parties disagree with the move.
According to USA Today, it's unclear whether Trump has the power to take executive action on such issues. He has used executive actions on other issues, drawing controversy and debate.
The president said during a press conference Monday night that they are "having a very good discussion" with Pelosi and Schumer. He also said they have an issue with the Democrats trying to bailout Democrat-run states and that they "don't think that's fair."
Pet projects tacked on to package with second stimulus check
Issues like unemployment remain a sticking point with both parties. Republicans tried to pass a one-week extension for the extra $600 in weekly benefits, but Democrats blocked it. They want an all or nothing approach rather than the piecemeal approach Republicans are trying to take just to get something passed.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House, Republicans and Democrats are trying to tack on several items to the next stimulus package that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. For example, the GOP included $1.75 billion in the HEALS Act to build a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington.
The White House is pushing for $377 million to renovate the West Wing of the White House and add a screening facility. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said last week that most of the funding would go to add filtration systems and various "needs highlighted by the pandemic.
The HEALS Act introduced last week also included $29 billion in funding for the Defense Department. The funds included money for jet fighters, attack helicopters, surveillance aircraft, medical ships and sonar buoys.
The HEROES Act, which was passed by House Democrats in May, includes a repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions for this year and next year. The cap was included in the Republicans' tax overhaul in 2017.
Democrats also included a provision for banking access for marijuana businesses, saying it's needed to make it easier for legitimate marijuana retailers to do business.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he opposes all measures that aren't related to pandemic relief, whether they come from his own party or from Democrats. That could be one reason he introduced the HEALS Act in pieces as it would ensure that the only proposals that get passed are related to the pandemic.