A bipartisan group of House lawmakers Tuesday unveiled a compromise coronavirus package that worked out some of the thorniest divisions between Democrats and Republicans in an effort to jump-start relief to Americans still reeling from the health and economic crisis.
The Problem Solvers Caucus released its $1.5 trillion coronavirus plan as proof bipartisanship is still afoot and to deliver a pre-packaged solution to Republican and Democratic leadership that would meet the nation’s most pressing needs for the next six to 12 months.
There’s been no progress on a new coronavirus package in the last four months, although schools, families and businesses continue to suffer and the coronavirus continues its deadly spread, having killed more than 193,000 Americans.
So the 50-member caucus — equally divided between Democrats and Republicans — spent six weeks trying to find a solution they believe can pass the House, Senate and be signed into law by President Trump.
Four of the caucus lawmakers spoke to Fox News to preview the plan before its public release and they lamented that talks between the White House and Democrats are “stuck.” They viewed their newly minted proposal as a “framework” to break the logjam.
“Our goal is to get people back to the table,” one lawmaker told Fox News.
Among the highlights of the $1.5 tillion plan:
— $120 billion for enhanced unemployment aid through January 2021 at a rate of $450 weekly for an eight-week transition period until states can reconfigure to the new system that would provide up to $600 weekly, but not to exceed 100% of the previous wage.
— $500.3 billion in state and local aid, which includes $130 billion for documented coronavirus state and local expenses through 2021, $120.3 billion for documented local budget shortfalls and $250 billion for proven state government shortfalls.
— $280 billion for another round of direct stimulus checks worth $1,200 for adults and $500 for children. Dependent adults would also qualify for money until this plan.
— $290 billion for small business and nonprofit assistance, including $240 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds and $50 billion for a targeted employee retention tax credit.
— New automatic triggers in the legislation that would provide an additional $400 billion boost through another round of stimulus checks in March 2021 and extended unemployment insurance through February if the virus still isn’t under control based on hospitalization rates and vaccine progress. And if the virus is under control, then there’s an automatic $200 billion reduction in spending taken from the PPP program, state and local aid and rental assistance.
Unlike the recent partisan efforts, the Problems Solvers’ caucus worked together in a bipartisan way to find common ground. The $3 trillion HEROES Act that passed the House in May was authored by Democrats. And both the $1 trillion July plan and the $300 billion September plan put forth in the Senate were devised just with GOP input.
“We wanted to demonstrate that there is common ground here,” another lawmaker told Fox News. “And when you put the people’s needs first, and you take politics and you set it aside you can actually have a good conversation.”
One way they were able to address GOP concerns about unfettered funding for state and local governments was to fashion the relief for coronavirus expenses and provable lost revenue due to the economic fallout, rather than just providing the nearly $1 trillion Democrats wanted.
And they took both GOP and Democratic plans into account on the federal unemployment boost. It’s the $600 weekly Democrats wanted but with the caveat that the benefits can’t exceed current wages, a nod to Republicans’ concerns that people wouldn’t go back to work if they were making more money to stay home.
Other provisions in the proposal include $100 billion for coronavirus testing and health care; $145 billion for schools and child care centers; $15 billion for the United States Postal Service and the elimination of the USPS full pre-funding requirement for retiree health benefits; $11 billion for food assistance, $25 billion for rental assistance; $400 million for states for election costs and certain protections from coronavirus lawsuits if business and schools follow enhanced worker safety protocols.
The caucus is led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. A formal news conference on the plan is slated for later Tuesday.