Senate GOP to Counter House’s Postal Bill with Broader Virus Aid Package

August 19, 2020by Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
The U.S. Capitol, Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are planning to roll out a “skinny” version of their eight-bill COVID-19 aid package with $10 billion added for the U.S. Postal Service as early as this week.

The legislation will be composed of provisions that are popular in the GOP conference, and will likely leave out some of the pieces in the earlier suite of bills that didn’t enjoy unified support, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Components of the bill will include money for unemployment benefits, schools, virus testing and small business relief, including an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, which expired Aug. 8.

The package also could include a new round of $1,200 tax rebates to individuals, as in the March relief law, but it wasn’t clear whether that provision would make it into the new GOP bill. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested over the weekend that another round of direct payments to households, among other aid provisions, should be included in any attempt to provide Postal Service funds.

The measure is also expected to include liability protections for businesses and schools that reopen, as well as health care providers. The package Republicans introduced in July also contained liability shield legislation.

The rollout is in part a Republican response to House plans to come back into session on Saturday to vote on a bill providing $25 billion for the cash-strapped Postal Service, which is contending with record volume and controversy surrounding mail-in ballots for the November elections. That’s the figure recommended by the service’s board of governors, Democrats argue.

The Senate GOP bill this week will counter with $10 billion for the Postal Service, according to Republican aides who were not authorized to speak publicly. That’s the figure that top administration officials have offered in talks with Democratic leaders, which represents what they believe to be a concession since postal officials have said they have sufficient funds to get through August 2021.

The bill the House will vote on Saturday also would block operational changes Postal Service leaders have signaled since Jan. 1, 2020, including restrictions on new hires, overtime pay, service delays and post office closures.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced Tuesday that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will testify Friday before that panel. DeJoy already was scheduled to appear Monday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Republicans will argue that they are trying to provide more COVID-19 and postal aid while Democrats remain intransigent in the broader coronavirus relief negotiations. Democrats have previously said they objected to a “skinny” plan that doesn’t deal comprehensively with pandemic-related economic and health care needs.

“The Democrats had been saying, ‘We’re not going to do anything piecemeal,’ and then they’re going to come back and do something piecemeal,” one GOP Senate aide said, referring to the House’s standalone Postal Service bill. “In a way it undercuts their argument.”

The GOP aide said the Republican bill will not have “everything that House Democrats passed in their messaging bill, but it’s a lot of what people need and it could actually get done and signed by the president if the Democrats are willing to cooperate on it.”

The so-called skinny plan might still contain hundreds of billions of dollars in new relief measures. Provisions floated for the revised version, when previously introduced by Senate Republicans last month, were estimated at over $700 billion in a preliminary tally by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The bill will not be formally introduced because the Senate is not in session. But it is being advanced as preparation for trying to reach a deal with House and Senate Democrats to pass a COVID-19 aid bill attached to a stopgap funding resolution in September.

It wasn’t immediately clear what level of jobless aid the Senate GOP bill would provide. The previous Senate package included a $200 weekly supplemental federal unemployment insurance benefit, but the White House has signaled it would go as high as $400. Democrats are pushing to renew the $600 weekly add-on that expired last month.

President Donald Trump on Aug. 8 moved to establish a system where states could apply for up to $44 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to provide laid-off workers with a $300 weekly supplement.

FEMA guidance this week said the earliest most states would able to distribute benefits is Aug. 29, and that the money will only cover three weeks of initial benefits to ensure other states can get funding they are approved for. And the money will only last as long as FEMA has enough to contend with potential natural disasters. One source familiar with the talks said the revised Senate GOP bill could ensure the $300 weekly benefit is available through December.

It wasn’t clear whether the Senate GOP offering would provide any additional direct state and local government aid. The House bill would provide almost $1 trillion in state and local aid, several times the $150 billion figure the White House has said it would support. Republicans argue also that direct education funds for states and localities would help address one of their biggest budgetary holes.

Talks broke off last week, with Democrats demanding that Republicans agree to at least $2 trillion in a broader aid bill, or roughly twice the size of the initial Senate GOP package offered last month. Democrats said that was a major concession given the nearly $3.4 trillion size of their bill that passed the House in May.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other administration officials have said the White House couldn’t agree to a $2 trillion price tag in advance of restarting formal talks, arguing the various provisions should be negotiated on their own merits.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters Aug. 13 that Speaker Nancy Pelosi “wants a $2 trillion commitment from us” and “we are not going to give it.”

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©2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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