Senate Republicans look to finally move into talks with Democrats on a new coronavirus relief package this week, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests it could take a few weeks to reach a deal.
A major deadline is looming Friday with the scheduled expiration of the $600-a-week in enhanced unemployment benefits that were provided as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act enacted in March.
Republicans had hoped to release their plan last Thursday, but McConnell announced instead that leaders of key committees would roll out portions of the plan, expected to cost about $1 trillion, on Monday. “The sum of these efforts will be a strong, targeted price of legislation aimed directly at the challenges we face right now,” McConnell said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., warned colleagues on Friday that the House would stay in session until the chamber can finish action on a coronavirus aid bill.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on Fox News Sunday, confirmed that the Senate GOP plan would be introduced Monday.
But the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, suggested the possibility of passing the next round of COVID-19 relief in pieces, starting with the most urgent provisions. "Honestly, I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace; helping with our schools. If we can do that, along with liability protection, perhaps we put that forward, get that passed and we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come," he told ABC News.
Mnuchin said that the GOP plan would replace the $600 federal benefit, which Republicans believe has discouraged recipients from going back to work, with a lower payment intended to cover 70% of a person's previous wages.
Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, said the plan also would include a repeat of the direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult authorized by the CARES Act. "I would have preferred a payroll tax cut, on top of that check. But, be that as it may, politically, it doesn't work," Kudlow said on CNN's State of the Union show Sunday.
In a joint statement on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sought to keep the heat on McConnell to release the GOP plan. “It is simply unacceptable that Republicans have had this entire time to reach consensus among themselves and continue to flail. Time is of the essence and lives are being lost,” the statement said.
At a stop in Ashland, Ky., on Friday, McConnell said a deal should be finished in the next few weeks and would be “front loaded toward immediate help,” suggesting Republicans would resist major longer term spending, such as infrastructure. “Looking for a theme, say kids in schools, jobs, health care and liability protection.”
The package will include $20 billion in additional assistance for farmers, along with authorization for the Agriculture Department to provide indemnities to livestock and poultry producers affected by processing disruptions and aid to ethanol producers, a key senator told Agri-Pulse last week.
“I believe that we’re inclusive in terms of laying out language to make sure USDA is addressing these things that the aggies have brought up to us,” said North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of the GOP leadership, said there would be “a lot of discretion left for the secretary” to determine how to spend the $20 billion, which would be a good thing for biofuel producers, she said.
Hoeven acknowledged that Democrats will want to provide more restrictions on how USDA distributes the aid and address other issues. “We recognize there’s going to be more negotiations,” he said.
The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., are both insistent on directing how the funding is spent.
The House, meanwhile, will move ahead with passing spending bills for fiscal 2021, which begins Oct. 1. On Friday, the House passed a package of four bills that included funding for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other departments and agencies.
This week, the House will take a package of seven more bills, which include funding for the Army Corps of Engineers and departments including Homeland Security, Labor and Transportation departments.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on possible reforms to the World Trade Organization. The witness list includes Joe Glauber, a former chief economist of the Agriculture Department and agricultural trade negotiator under the U.S. Trade Representative.
The commissioner of the Food and Drug Commission, Stephen Hahn, on Tuesday will headline the Consumer Federation of America’s annual food policy conference, being held online this year after it had to be postponed from March.
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Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who has made a number of proposals to shift food and farm policy on issues ranging from agribusiness mergers and livestock farming to climate change, will also speak on Tuesday.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, July 27
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, July 28
Consumer Federation of America online food policy conference, through Wednesday.
3 p.m. — National Association of Counties hosts virtual town hall with former Agriculture Secretaries Ann Veneman and Tom Vilsack.
Wednesday, July 29
10:15 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing on WTO reforms, 215 Dirksen.
Thursday, July 30
2 p.m. — Bipartisan Policy Center launches initiative on building a bipartisan agenda for farm and forest carbon solutions.
Friday, July 31
9 a.m. — House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing, “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus,” 2154 Rayburn.
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