Trump calls for stimulus payments and massive economic relief bill, upending Republicans’ more limited approach

So last week, the Senate GOP tried to advance an approximately $300 billion bill without stimulus checks, but Senate Democrats blocked it.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Trump mischaracterized Democrats’ position by saying they were “heartless” for not wanting “to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).”

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said he had not seen Trump’s tweet but, “I assume that means he wants to make a deal.”

“I’m not sure what higher numbers, what that means. That probably needs to get translated for us,” Thune added. “But I know kind of what the threshold is for what we can get Republican votes for in the Senate, and I think if the number gets too high anything that got passed in the Senate would be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans, so it’s going to have to stay in sort of a realistic range.”

Another Senate Republican, Roy Blunt of Missouri, said a deal could be reached but they likely needed an agreement by the end of September.

“We need to get busy finding out what we can all agree on,” he said, acknowledging it would have to be higher than the $1 trillion bill Senate Republicans released in July.

Blunt pointed to a $1.5 trillion bill released on Tuesday by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, which included provisions allowing it to get smaller or larger depending on rates of hospitalizations and vaccinations.

“Maybe the escalator clause concept gives everybody a little something to brag about,” Blunt said. “There’s a deal there. I think it would be really a shame if we don’t figure out how to grab hold of it.”

Congress is scheduled to be in session through early October and they must also pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Multiple efforts to revive the economic relief talks have failed, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is now coming under growing pressure from moderate lawmakers in tough reelection races who do not want to recess for the election without voting on new aid for their constituents.

Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday said a deal might not come together until after the November election.

Congress passed, and Trump signed, the Cares Act in March, which sent $1,200 checks to millions of Americans as a way to try and contain some of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Those checks went to more than 100 million Americans, and Trump signaled on Wednesday that he wants to send another round of such checks, something Democrats have long supported.

But they have not been able to reach agreement because of other things Democrats want to put in the next relief bill, in particular state aid, that the White House doesn’t support.

Senate Republicans’ roughly $300 billion bill included more unemployment benefits and small-business aid, among other things, but the measure couldn’t advance because it was blocked by Senate Democrats who decried it as woefully insufficient. House Democrats, meanwhile, are struggling to come up with a unified plan for how to negotiate with the White House.

Pelosi has said repeatedly that Democrats would offer concessions to their May proposal and agree to a more narrow package that was around $2.2 trillion. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week that $2.2 trillion was still too high.

Despite the pressure Pelosi is now confronting, she has indicated no willingness to back down and agree to a lesser deal.

“We have come down, but the needs of the American people — we can only go so far,” Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC. “We cannot have a Sophie’s Choice of feeding some children and not others, housing some people and not others.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been the administration’s lead negotiator, has cited $1.5 trillion as a figure the White House might be able to agree to meet.