New White House Offer Adds $600 Checks to COVID-19 Relief

WASHINGTON (AP) -
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington/Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

The Trump administration dove back into Capitol Hill’s confusing COVID-19 negotiations on Tuesday, offering a $916 billion package to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would send a $600 direct payment to most Americans.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the offer to Pelosi late Tuesday afternoon, he said in a statement. He offered few details, though House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said it proposes the $600 direct payment for individuals and $1,200 for couples, which is half the payment delivered by the March pandemic relief bill.

Mnuchin reached out to Pelosi after a call with top congressional GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who remains at odds with Democratic leaders over COVID-19 relief.

McConnell had earlier proposed shelving a top Democratic priority — aid to state and local governments — in exchange for dropping his own pet provision, a shield against lawsuits for COVID-related negligence. Democrats angrily rejected the idea, saying McConnell was undermining the efforts of a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators and reneging on earlier statements that state and local aid would likely have to be an element of a COVID-19 relief agreement given Democratic control of the House.

Top Republicans dislike the direct payments, saying they are costly and send too much aid to people who do not need it. Democrats generally embrace the idea.

McConnell said Congress will not adjourn without providing the long-overdue COVID-19 relief. He had previously said he would not put any pandemic relief bill on the floor that does not include the liability shield, which is being sought by businesses, universities, nonprofits, and others that are reopening during the pandemic.

“Leaving here without a COVID relief package cannot happen,” McConnell said. “Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues. We know we’re going to be confronted with another request after the first of the year. We’ll live to fight those another day.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer immediately rejected the entreaty.

Pelosi initially demanded more than $900 billion for state and local governments this spring, but the fiscal situation in the states hasn’t been as bad as feared and Democratic leaders could be willing to accept a $160 billion proposal by the moderate group.