Senate Republicans to introduce smaller Covid package that includes billions for Postal Service

Senate Republicans are planning to introduce a stripped-down coronavirus relief bill, amid an impasse in negotiations between the White House and top Democratic leaders.

The latest GOP coronavirus relief bill is expected to include an additional $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, $300 in boosted weekly federal unemployment benefits until December 27, another round of money for the Paycheck Protection Program and liability protections. The proposal is also expected to include money for education and testing.

Senate leadership told GOP aides on a call Monday afternoon that text would be released in the next 24 hours. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have adamantly opposed any “skinny,” or piecemeal, proposal.

The new bill comes as the House is preparing to interrupt August recess for a rare Saturday vote on legislation that would provide $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service. Democrats are seeking to bolster the agency ahead of the November election, citing President Donald Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at an event in Kentucky Monday that he hoped the “impasse would end soon,” but added “I can’t tell you with certainty we’re going to reach an agreement.”

The bill, referred to by Republicans as “skinny” is very similar to the $1 trillion HEALS Act, which Senate Republicans introduced in late July. McConnell has made clear that any coronavirus relief legislation will need to include liability reform. GOP aides were told that the liability protections are “substantially” similar to the proposed Republican legislation, according to a source on the call. The HEALS Act also provided workers with $200 in boosted weekly federal unemployment benefits for 60 days until states could provide 70 percent wage replacement.

The $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service is the same amount of money White House and Democratic negotiators agreed to earlier this month in coronavirus relief talks.

McConnell predicted Monday that the Postal Service would be “just fine.”

“We’re going to make sure that the ability to function going into the election is not adversely affected,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The latest GOP proposal comes after weeks of talks between top White House officials and Democratic leaders went nowhere. Most senators returned home August 6, even though McConnell kept the Senate in session for an additional week with no votes.

The biggest sticking point remains the price tag of the next relief bill. In negotiations earlier this month, Democrats offered to come down $1 trillion from the nearly $3.5 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. But the White House and Senate Republicans want to keep the price tag closer to $1 trillion.

The impasse is only increasing the economic uncertainty for millions of Americans. The economy is showing little sign of recovery amid the pandemic, with unemployment at 10.2 percent in July. Adding to the pressure, a moratorium on evictions and a federal $600 weekly unemployment benefit from the March CARES Act expired last month. Democrats want to see the $600 benefit extended through next year, but Republicans argue it provides a disincentive to work and want to see it changed.

The Senate is currently scheduled to return to Washington D.C. after Labor Day.

By Marianne LeVine

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