Problem Solvers Step Into Relief Bill Void to Offer Bipartisan Plan

September 15, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Capitol, Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a $1.5 trillion proposal they hope will end the current stalemate over new relief to bolster the coronavirus battered economy.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, led by co-chairs Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y., developed the framework after in-district listening sessions with constituents and outreach to stakeholders over the past  six weeks.

Though the odds are long against the proposal itself passing both houses of Congress and being approved by the White House, the group of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans think it might just have enough across-the-aisle appeal to encourage House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and lead White House negotiators Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to get back to the bargaining table.

The proposal includes several measures that are already known to enjoy bipartisan support.

These include reviving the popular Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and direct checks of $1,200 or more for American taxpayers.

The measure would reinstate lapsed federal jobless aid at $450 per week for eight weeks, then replace up to $600 weekly in lost wages for an additional five weeks. That is more than Republicans wanted, but less than the flat, $600-a-week benefit that lapsed at the end of July, which Democrats have insisted must be extended in full.

The proposal would also send $500 billion to strapped state and local governments, less than the nearly $1 trillion Democrats included in their $3.4 trillion stimulus plan that passed the House in May, but roughly double what the White House has signaled it could support.

On the COVID front, the proposal allocates $25 billion for coronavirus testing, and provides health care providers with roughly $75 billion in relief.

It would also provide $145 billion to schools and child care facilities, $400 billion to election support, and  $52 billion for the expansion of the nation’s broadband network, as well as the U.S. Postal Service and the Census Bureau.

The proposal also includes $12 billion for the deployment of broadband hot spots, particularly in rural and urban areas, and $25 billion to benefit those in agriculture and aquaculture.

It also includes worker and business liability protections, and ties the amount of aid dispensed over time to automatic, evidence-based triggers that would raise and lower the amount of aid depending on the prevailing conditions at the time.

While the Problem Solvers said their proposal will cost roughly $1.5 trillion, it could range anywhere from $2 trillion to $1.3 trillion, depending on conditions.

Negotiations broke down in August after Democrats and White House officials failed to reconcile vast differences in priorities and cost, principally over money for states and those out of work.

Both sides have all but given up on passing something into law before the election, and are now focused on agreeing to a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded through the fall.

But members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, who, like most of their House colleagues, were all but frozen out of the talks, believe that’s not good enough — especially with a critically important election looming just weeks away.

“Americans deserve a functioning Congress that can rise to the challenge and deliver the relief they need,” Rep. Reed said.

“Our framework reflects months of bipartisan consensus-building on the actions the federal government can take to help working families and local communities across the country as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19,” he said. “We are hopeful this package will help bring lead negotiators back to the table as we try to solve this problem for the American people.”  

Rep. Gottheimer agreed, describing the proposal as the result of a “shared goal of finding a pragmatic solution — a bipartisan path forward — to help negotiators to return to the table.”

Several members of the caucus spoke on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday explaining why they support the plan and to show their dissatisfaction with the “brinkmanship” that has characterized the relief bill talks.

“For too long, partisanship and posturing have stood in the way of substantive negotiations to address the sustained impact of the pandemic on our country,” said Rep. John Katko.

The New York Republican continued, “Our package contains measures that both sides agree on, including additional assistance for state and local governments, and resources for COVID testing, unemployment support, stimulus checks, schools and child care, and PPP.

“There’s more that we agree on than disagree on. I hope this bill will inspire negotiators to set politics aside, and act as a blueprint to advance discussions,” Katko said.

Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., said the bipartisan framework created by the caucus “would deliver relief in a timely, targeted and transparent way.”

“It’s  time to put politics aside and do what’s right,” she said.

“This proposal can and should serve as a serious start of negotiations,” Rep. Elisa Slotkin, D-Mich., agreed. “I’m urging leadership in the House, Senate and White House to rise to the moment and get back to negotiating.

“We have to continue working across the aisle, regardless of politics, to get help to the people who need it right now. That is what is expected of us, and what the moment demands,” she said. 

Other lawmakers, spoke of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on their districts.

Rep, Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said she hears “heartbreaking stories” from residents of her district nearly every day.

“Working families are struggling to pay the bills after the loss of a job. Small businesses are hurting and unable to give their employees the assurance of long-term employment,” shesaid. “Schools are unsure of when they will return to normal, and health care workers continue to be on the front lines of a global pandemic that has yet to be contained in our country.

“Standing on the sidelines in this moment of national uncertainty is out of the question,” Spanberger said. “The people of Central Virginia expect their elected officials to pursue common ground — and this package provides an opportunity for Congress to move forward and do its job in the face of these circumstances.

“We need to focus on supporting the programs that matter to our constituents … and leadership in both parties must get back to the negotiating table,” she added.

Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., shared her sentiments.

“With thousands of South Carolinians still out of work, small businesses struggling to keep the lights on, and state and local governments fiscally exhausted, it is long past time Congress came together to negotiate another COVID-19 relief package,” Cunningham said. “This bipartisan framework would allocate the necessary funding for testing, relief for working families, unemployed Americans, and small businesses, and much-needed aid for state and local governments. Americans are counting on their elected officials and so failure is not an option.”

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