Amid Stimulus Impasse, Bipartisan Group Offers $1.5 Trillion Compromise

A bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers plans on Tuesday to present a $1.5 trillion plan to prop up the coronavirus-ravaged economy, making a last-ditch attempt to broach a compromise in hopes of breaking a stalemate in stimulus talks before November’s elections.

The proposal faces long odds amid partisan divisions over what should be included in such a package, and members of the group — which calls itself the House Problem Solvers Caucus — concede privately that their framework stands little chance of becoming law. But the decision to offer it up publicly reflects frustration among rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties at the failure by their leaders to agree to another round of pandemic aid, and a reluctance to return home weeks before Election Day without cementing such help.

Aiming for a middle ground between Republican and Democratic positions, the proposal includes measures that enjoy bipartisan support, like reviving the popular Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and direct checks of $1,200 or more for American taxpayers, as well as more contentious ones like new legal rights and protections for workers and their employers.

But the bulk of its proposed spending would fall somewhere in the middle of what the two parties have championed. The measure would reinstate lapsed federal jobless aid at $450 per week for eight weeks, then replace up to $600 weekly in lost wages for an additional five weeks. That is more than Republicans wanted, but less than the flat, $600-a-week benefit that lapsed at the end of July, which Democrats have insisted must be extended in full. And the proposal would send $500 billion to strapped state and local governments, less than the nearly $1 trillion Democrats included in their $3.4 trillion stimulus plan that passed the House in May, but roughly double what the White House has signaled it could support.

The coalition proposing the measure is led by Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, and Tom Reed, Republican of New York. In unveiling it, the group is seeking to send a signal to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the lead White House negotiators — Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary — that there is ample common ground to be found in talks that have been dormant for weeks.

But reviving the talks is a tall order. Negotiations all but broke down in August after a brief but intense round of discussions between Democrats and White House officials to reconcile vast differences in priorities and cost, principally over money for states and those out of work. The primary negotiators have all but given up on passing something into law before the election, and are now focused on agreeing to a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded through the fall.

In the meantime, millions of jobless Americans are beginning to exhaust traditional unemployment aid that has kept them afloat and stimulated the economy, and many small businesses, including restaurants, have been left to contend with a steep drop in revenue and coming cold weather on their own.

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is composed of moderate members and has few significant policy achievements to its name, set out to draft their own proposal in early August as they, like most other lawmakers in the House, were frozen out of the talks.

In addition to Mr. Gottheimer and Mr. Reed, Representatives Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, and Dusty Johnson, Republican of South Dakota, helped write the framework, which took about six weeks to draft.

Though the price tag falls well below that of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law Congress unanimously passed in March, or House Democrats’ $3.4 trillion bill, its effects would be far-reaching.

In addition to money for state and local governments and for schools, lawmakers included $100 billion for testing, contact tracing and other health initiatives to try to increase the nation’s testing capacity to three million tests a day. There is money for expanding rural and urban broadband, supporting agricultural workers and extending the 2020 census to ensure an accurate count.

The bill would allocate $25 billion for mortgage and rental assistance, $130 billion for schools and $15 billion for the beleaguered Postal Service, as well as separate funds to administer the 2020 elections during a health crisis and for food assistance programs.

The group also proposed building in automatic triggers that would extend jobless aid and provide for another round of stimulus checks if the economy remains hobbled in January, potentially driving up the measure’s cost.


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