Why a Fourth COVID Bill Won’t Pass Before Election Day

A group of men and women wearing masks making a speech regarding the March to Common Ground

Will we get more unemployment help?

PPP helped, but my business is still struggling to recover.

Why hasn’t Congress acted? Don’t they understand we need more help?

The frustration and fear inherent in these questions are real.

I never have a good answer.

Yes, it is September, and we are still waiting for more COVID help from Congress.

If you have read this blog over the past couple of months, you have read about the “ups and downs” of the negotiations.

If you have not read this blog, here’s a quick recap:

  • In May, the House passed the HEROES Act providing $3.5 trillion in aid to state and local governments, testing and tracing, unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program among numerous other provisions.
  • The HEROES Act was the House Democrats offer to start negotiations for a fourth COVID aid bill.
  • Senate Republicans said they would offer their legislation in June. It wasn’t until late July that Senate Republicans offered their version of a fourth COVID bill, called the HEALS Act totaling $1 trillion. The bill failed to pass the Senate due to Democratic opposition that the bill did not include funds for state and local governments, amongst other points of disagreement.
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have represented the White House in negotiations insisting on approximately $1 trillion in aid.
  • In late July/early August, Democrats agreed to reduce their ask by $ 1 trillion if Republicans would raise their ask by $1 trillion. Thus, the compromise would be a $2 trillion relief bill. Republicans rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, President Trump took executive action on August 8th to extend unemployment, defer payroll taxes, renew eviction moratorium, and address student loan payments.

A month after his announcement, the extended unemployment insurance of $300 could end soon. According to Politico, FEMA set aside $44 billion from a disaster relief fund to pay for the unemployment benefits and has paid out $30 billion so far to 48 states, Guam, and DC.

Three weeks ago, Senate Republicans circulated a different bill, but that legislation did not get a vote in the Senate.

To date, the negotiations remain at an impasse.

Last week on September 10, Senate Republicans tried again. Senate Republicans offered a “slimmed down” $650 billion aid package for a vote on the Senate floor.

The bill failed a procedural hurdle by a vote of 52-47, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

This week in a last-ditch effort to revive negotiations, the House Problem Solvers Caucus offered their version of a COVID bill. The Problems Solvers Caucus is a group of 50 House Members who are both Democrats and Republicans.

Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N) announced the “March to Common Ground” framework, which seeks to bridge the gap on issues of disagreement, including help for state and local governments. The framework also includes funds for testing, small businesses, childcare, etc. Known for offering bi-partisan solutions, the framework interestingly links relief to economic metrics, reducing aid if the pandemic subsides and extending assistance if the pandemic worsens.

We’ll see if the Problem Solvers efforts convince negotiators to reach a deal before the House and Senate adjourn at the end of September/beginning of October to get ready for the Election.

According to Bloomberg Government, Speaker Pelosi signaled optimism that a deal can be reached to provide more aid to state and local governments. Senate Majority Leader McConnell did not rule out a deal either.

In fact, over the past day or so, the White House is now signaling its willingness to support a $1.5 trillion bill.

On various phone calls this week, Members of the House and Senate (who shall remain nameless to preserve my relationships) said a deal would not happen until after the Election.

Members acknowledge there is just not enough legislative time to 1) revive negotiation, 2) pass a COVID bill, and 3) also pass a bill to fund the government before September 30.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, then these negotiations are more than a timing or abstract exercise. Unemployment insurance, food assistance, and other forms of aid provided in the CARES Act in March have ended. People still need help.

If you are a business owner, the multiple rounds of Paycheck Protection Program funds expired in August. Not to mention Congress has not passed liability protections from COVID-related lawsuits. Unless your state has acted, your business can be sued if a customer claims they contracted COVID in your business.

State and local governments still need to help to prevent layoffs of teachers and first responders and fund their testing and tracing needs.

Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, Congress needs to find a way forward to help Americans who struggling during this pandemic.

Members of both parties will have to answer for their actions when they go home to campaign.

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