As Congress is headed for an 11-day crunch to agree on a new rescue package and have it signed by President Trump before a key provision of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act expires—with millions of Americans unemployed and new cases of the coronavirus soaring to alarming levels—here’s what’s at stake in the next round of legislation.
Unemployment insurance: The extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits authorized by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act will run out at the end of July, and while a new proposal by Senate Democrats would extend the benefits until the labor market recovers, Republicans have argued that the extra boost discourages people from returning to their jobs.
Back-to-work bonuses: Instead of more unemployment benefits, some Republican lawmakers—like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio—favor cash bonuses for workers returning to their jobs.
Payroll tax cut: President Trump has long been a proponent of a payroll tax cut, which he says would bolster the labor market by boosting Americans’ take-home pay, though experts say the policy doesn’t help the unemployed.
Stimulus checks: President Trump said this week he supports sending another round of direct payments to Americans, as do many Democrats; Republicans—wary of additional government spending—are divided on the issue.
Aid to state and local governments: In urging McConnell to restart stimulus negotiations immediately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday that state and local governments will struggle to cover essential services like schools—not to mention soaring healthcare costs and major tax revenue losses—without additional federal funding.
Small business relief: Both the House and the Senate agreed this week to extend the Paycheck Protection Program until August 8, buying Congress time to figure out what to do with the $134 billion that hasn’t yet been lent and decide on any further assistance for small businesses.
Liability protections: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been a fierce advocate for legal protections for businesses that reopen to protect them against coronavirus-related lawsuits, calling them a “red line” for GOP negotiators back in May.
Tourism tax breaks: The White House has also floated tax cuts on domestic travel to help prop up the leisure and tourism industries, which are among those sectors hit hardest by the pandemic.
Lawmakers have passed four major pieces of rescue legislation since the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States. The first two bills shored up federal funding for testing and small business loans, established provisions for paid sick leave and expanded unemployment insurance. Those bills were followed by the CARES Act, which clocked in as the largest piece of rescue legislation in American history with a price tag of $2.2 trillion. The CARES Act is the law that created the Paycheck Protection Program and authorized the IRS to send out the first round of stimulus checks. It was almost immediately followed by another package worth nearly $500 billion that replenished funding for emergency assistance for small businesses. In May, the Democratic-led House passed the Heroes Act, a sweeping $3 trillion stimulus package that included everything from more stimulus checks to an extension for the expanded unemployment program to more aid for states. The Heroes Act has been largely ignored by the Republican-led Senate and is virtually guaranteed to fail in that chamber in its current form.