Mitch McConnell unveils $1 trillion pandemic aid package to criticisms from Republicans and Democrats

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Monday released their counterproposal on another coronavirus stimulus package, a roughly $1 trillion package that includes another round of direct checks to millions of Americans, more help for small businesses and money to help reopen schools.

Almost immediately, it was criticized by conservative lawmakers as misguided and expensive and by Democrats as a ridiculously late effort that falls short of the nation's needs to weather the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected nearly 4.3 million Americans and killed more than 147,000.

Dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools Act, or HEALS Act, the legislation is expected to kick off serious negotiations with House Democrats who in May passed their own Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, projected to cost $3 trillion.

The stimulus packagee – the fifth since the pandemic began in March – is likely the last economic rescue package before the November election.

"We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country: getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work and winning the health care fight against the virus," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media after a Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, June 9, 2020.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media after a Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, June 9, 2020.

Among the GOP bill's key provisions as laid out by McConnell:

  • Another round of $1,200 checks for individuals ($2,400 for married couples), with more support for adult dependents.

  • A “sequel” to the Paycheck Protection Program, the widely praised small business rescue program that has provided more than $500 billion to companies with fewer than 500 employees. The GOP proposal would target hard-hit firms with 300 or fewer workers a second opportunity to draw from the fund.

  • A continued federal supplement to state unemployment insurance. The weekly amount is “eight times what Democrats put in place when they controlled the White House and Congress during the Great Recession," McConnell said.

  • $100 billion to help schools and universities reopen fully, a priority of President Donald Trump.

  • $16 billion to expand state testing with an emphasis on schools, child care facilities and nursing homes.

  • $26 billion for development of vaccines and therapeutic remedies to treat COVID-19.

  • Freezing 2021 Medicare premiums at 2020 levels.

  • Economic incentives to boost worker retention.

  • Liability protections for medical workers, schools, and employers.

  • More funding for personal protective equipment to help first responders avoid infection from COVID-19.

More: House passes $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan, faces pushback in Republican-led Senate

The release of the Republican package had been delayed amid divisions within GOP lawmakers and the White House. On Monday, it appeared those divisions had not fully healed.

"There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington. The answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work. ... As it stands now, I think it's likely that you'll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns."

Democrats slammed it for not going far enough.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the GOP bill "totally inadequate" because it does not include enough money to safely reopen schools, fails to provide hazard pay for essential workers, doesn't protect financially strapped homeowners from foreclosure or tenants from eviction, and won't provide funding for food stamps and other assistance.

"How hard-hearted," Schumer said. "How cruel."

One of the controversial aspects of the GOP is that it caps federal unemployment assistance to 70% of workers' pay rather than Democrats' plan of extending the weekly $600 federal unemployment bonus through January.

"This is a much more responsible approach" than the previous bill, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said on the Senate floor.

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Another potential stumbling block was a provision in the GOP bill to limit what Texas Republican John Cornyn called a "feeding frenzy" of frivolous lawsuits against businesses and other employers over exposure to the virus.

Cornyn said the measure would not prevent legal action when workers are intentionally or recklessly exposed, but it would give employers confidence to re-open without fear of being sued.

“We’re seeing lawsuits focusing on nursing homes, universities, non-profit, businesses. You name it," he said. "Without action from Congress, the litigation epidemic will potentially sink the very businesses and enterprises that we hope we can sustain throughout this crisis.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mitch McConnell unveils stimulus plan panned by Democrats, Republicans