- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

House Democrats on Tuesday threw cold water on an effort by rank-and-file lawmakers to restart coronavirus relief talks with a new $2 trillion bipartisan proposal.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a 50-member group split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, aimed to carve out a middle ground and break the political gridlock blocking any attempt at a relief package.

Democratic leaders essentially patted the proposal on the head and then dismissed it as insufficient.

“While we appreciate every attempt at providing critical relief to American families, the Problem Solvers Caucus‘ proposal falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy,” Democratic committee chairmen said in a joint statement, arguing the proposal “fails to respond to additional issues that have emerged since May.”

The leaders of the caucus — Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Tom Reed of New York — said their goal was to prove to leaders on both sides that a compromise was possible.

“What brings the 50 of us together — 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans who supported this package — is our shared goal of finding a pragmatic solution, a bipartisan path forward to get negotiators back to the table,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “We can’t wait. We can’t play political games.”

The $2 trillion offer isn’t that far off from the $2.4 trillion Democrats were requesting last month.

After a $500 billion GOP package was shot down in the Senate last week, lawmakers were left with little hope there would be a deal before the November elections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is trying to keep her caucus in line on her anti-piecemeal approach.

That stance contributed to the collapsed negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats in August, with Democrats rejecting any legislation less than a comprehensive deal that included aid for state and local governments.

The Problem Solvers‘ proposal includes $100 billion for healthcare, $25 billion of which is dedicated to coronavirus testing and contract tracing.

It would provide $316 billion in personal aid for families, including $25 billion in rental assistance programs through January and an additional round of $1,200 direct payments. There also would be an extension of student loan forbearance through December. It also would provide $145 billion for schools and child care providers.

The group sought to strike a balance between the GOP’s offer of $300 a week of boosted unemployment benefits and the Democrats’ insistence on $600 a week, by setting up an eight-week transition period during which states would pay $450 a week. After that, payments would be adjusted to 100% of an individual’s previous pay, capped at $600 a week.

It also would inject $240 billion into the expired small business Paycheck Protection Program and allow for second-round loans to some employers.

Liability protections — one of Republicans’ top priorities — are included for employers following federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration worker protection guidelines. But they’re balanced with Democratic asks of $400 million for election funding and about $500 billion in new funds for state and local governments.

Republican leaders did not endorse the Problem Solvers‘ bill, either.Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, one of the members of Senate Republican leadership, said that while he’s not entirely supportive of more money for state and local governments, the proposal could be a real chance at restarting negotiations.

Mostly the GOP touted the proposal as another example of Mrs. Pelosi’s inability to compromise.

“Speaker Pelosi is so obsessed with the re-election of President Trump that she’s going to block anything from happening. Period,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, told The Washington Times. “There are people who need help and the Democrats have continued to block based on the politics of the presidential race.”

House Democrats, who passed a $3 trillion package in May, blame Republicans for the lack of movement on a deal, saying they’ve put forward flimsy proposals.

However, rank-and-file Democrats have been pushing leadership to add some kind of additional coronavirus relief to the agenda.Without one, several lawmakers will be going home empty-handed to face tough reelection bids.

Mrs. Pelosi promised her caucus would stay in session until a deal with the White House is reached, but practically, that doesn’t change much, as lawmakers have been operating on standby from their districts for months.

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