- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2020

House and Senate leaders rolled up their sleeves Monday for bare-knuckle negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill, wrestling over unemployment benefits, money for child care, a payroll tax cut and business loans to keep workers on the job.

President Trump’s team is headed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to rally Republican lawmakers.

Democrats are eyeing a $3 trillion package and stressing the need for more supercharged jobless benefits, which Republicans oppose as a disincentive for the unemployed to return to work.

The extra $600 per week that was added to unemployment checks in a previous coronavirus relief package made unemployment more profitable than working for many Americans. The extra benefits are set to expire at the end of the month.

Instead, Republicans are focused on immunity for businesses so they don’t face a flood of lawsuits from reopening while COVID-19 is spreading.

“We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic we’ve already been struggling with here,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, during a meeting at the White House.

Mr. Trump backs the immunity for businesses and also wants a payroll tax cut.

Mr. McConnell plans to release the GOP proposal for the next coronavirus package later this week. He has called on Democrats, who control the House, to work in a bipartisan way to get the legislation across the finish line before Congress takes its August vacation.

Mr. McConnell and Republican senators are set to meet with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday to iron out the details.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer also are expected to meet with Mr. McConnell.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Republicans are too focused on special interests with a push to give legal immunity to corporations and businesses such as nursing homes that are negligent and fail to protect against the virus.

“Workers and families, not special interests, should be our main focus,” he said in a letter to his Democratic colleagues.

Democrats are eyeing extended unemployment funding. They also said there needs to be rental assistance and better pay for frontline workers.

The supercharged unemployment will be a major battle line in the negotiations.

“I’ve been opposed to paying people more than they got for working,” Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, recently told WKDZ radio in his home state. “The way historically unemployment worked, it didn’t give you as much as you made working. It gave you a percentage of that.”

Another looming question will be how Congress approaches the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans and grants to businesses that keep workers on the payroll.

Last week Mr. Mnuchin spoke with members on the House Small Business Committee, suggesting that PPP should be amended to allow the hardest-hit companies to apply for a second loan and the government could consider forgiving “small” loans.

The program was created with the $2 trillion March coronavirus package, refilled in April, and still has about $130 billion left for new loans.

The legislation appears to be moving toward making the second round of PPP more targeted with some of the funds set aside for minority-owned businesses.

While reopening schools and shoring up resources for child care are priorities for both parties, House Democrats put two of their proposals on a fast track, teeing up votes this week on those measures.

The Child Care is Essential Act would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund within the larger Child Care and Development Block Grant program to ensure providers, particularly those in low-income areas, don’t shut down. It would provide funds for paychecks and tuition grants while requiring facilities to comply with public health guidance.

Another bill — the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act — would provide a surge of funding in several areas, including $10 billion for the Child Care Entitlement to States program, $10 billion for infrastructure projects, and $850 million to state and local governments to help cover child care costs for essential workers. It also would create a new tax credit to extend access to child care and make the current child and dependent care tax credit fully refundable.

Both proposals only have Democratic co-sponsors signed on.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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