Jul 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

White House, Senate Republicans far apart on stimulus talks

McConnell and Mnuchin
McConnell and Mnuchin. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were deployed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to brief the Senate Republican conference, alongside Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the details of the GOP coronavirus stimulus bill.

Driving the news: The Senate Republican lunch descended into chaos, several GOP lawmakers said, revealing that the White House and Republican senators remain far apart on key priorities in the next economic package.

Why it matters: McConnell told reporters he doesn't think they'll be able to pass a bill by the end of next week — ramping up pressure for a side deal on unemployment insurance, since the supplemental $600-per-week benefits passed in the CARES Act are set to expire on July 31.

  • McConnell's view stands in contrast with that of Meadows and Mnuchin, who both said they're aiming for a July 31 deadline.

Inside the lunch: The White House officials did little talking, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told reporters. Instead, senators used the time to air their disagreements. "There's a robust difference of opinion," Hawley said.

  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a deficit hawk, stormed out of the lunch early and told reporters he finds it infuriating that the majority of the GOP conference is willing to support another trillion-dollar bill.
  • "Just came from Progressive Democrat, whoops, I mean Republican caucus," Paul later tweeted, calling the majority of Republicans "no different than socialist Democrats when it comes to debt."
  • One lawmaker described the lunch as "messy" and said they still "have a lot of work to do." Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added: "About 15 different members wanted to make a point, and they made them."

Details: The White House wants a payroll tax cut, restrictions on additional funding for testing, and federal funding for schools to be contingent on their reopening plans. Most Senate Republicans disagree with each of these priorities.

What we do know: The Senate GOP bill, which will be publicly rolled out later this week and serve as a starting point for negotiations with Democrats, will include more money for schools, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), new unemployment benefits, and money for testing.

  • But the devil is in the details, lawmakers say, and the next few weeks of negotiations will be more complicated than many had hoped.

The big picture: Meanwhile, several states are halting their reopening plans as the virus continues to surge through the country, creating an increased need for new funding — particularly with regard to unemployment insurance.

What to watch: Meadows and Mnuchin are slated to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer later Tuesday afternoon.

  • "We may seem far apart, but I imagine they'll be on a different planet entirely," one GOP congressional aide told Axios.
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