US Republicans and Democrats differ on new coronavirus aid bill

Both parties in Congress want to pass the fifth aid package by the end of the month, but they disagree on key issues.

US Senate
Republicans and Democrats are far apart on a number of elements of the coronavirus aid package [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Republicans and Democrats in the United States Congress aim to pass a fifth coronavirus aid package before the end of the month, but to do so, they will have to overcome significant differences.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $3.4 trillion virus relief bill in May. Republicans who control the Senate are expected to unveil a package later this week that will cost closer to one trillion dollars, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump has also weighed in on what the package should include, at times diverging from both parties. 

To date, at least 3.9 million people have been infected in the US and more than 142,000 people have died, the most in both metrics of any country in the world. 

As policymakers begin negotiations, sometimes within their own ranks, here is where Republicans and Democrats might find common ground and where they so far disagree. 

Common ground

Direct payments to Americans: Congress in March authorised direct payments of up to $2,400 per family. The most recent bill passed by the Democratic majority House would authorise another round of payments of up to $6,000 per household. Republicans support another round of direct payments, although they have been vague on the exact amount. 

Aid for schools: Both sides have backed roughly $100bn in support for schools and universities, many of which had to implement distance learning at the end of the school year and are being pressured by Trump to resume in-person learning when classes restart. A key difference: Republicans want to earmark half that money for schools that are trying to teach classes in person, according to Republican Senator Roy Blunt.

Health spending: Both parties back increased money for testing and other measures to contain the virus, as well as funds for hospitals and healthcare providers that treat those sickened by it. The Trump administration initially opposed money for testing, but now supports it as well.

Small business: Both sides want to bolster the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides grants and loans to small businesses that have been hurt by the virus.

Disagreements

Liability protections: Republicans want to shield businesses and other organisations from personal injury lawsuits related to the virus. Democrats oppose these protections. According to the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, personal injury cases account for 161 of the 3,400 COVID-related lawsuits filed so far.

A payroll tax cut: Trump has pushed for a cut to the 7.65 percent payroll tax, which funds Social Security and Medicare. Legislators from both parties have shown little interest.

Other funding: Democrats included funding for the US Postal Service, the November elections, food assistance, transit systems, student loan relief, and a wide range of other programmes. Republicans, who aim to keep the overall cost of the bill down, are considered unlikely to support these proposals.

Subject to change

State and local government aid: Some 1.5 million teachers, firefighters and other public-sector workers have lost their jobs as state and local governments have scrambled to close yawning budget gaps. Economists have said more such layoffs are sure to come without support from Congress.

The House authorised $960bn in aid, but it is unclear whether Senate Republicans will go along. Some, like Republican Senator Rick Scott, have said they do not want to “bail out” liberal-leaning states that spend more on government, while others say such support is now needed as the pandemic has spread to more conservative parts of the country.

Unemployment aid: Congress has boosted unemployment benefits by $600 a week, but that benefit is due to expire at the end of July. Economists said that could slow the economic recovery and make it harder for millions of jobless Americans to pay their bills.

The House bill would extend those benefits until February 2021. Republicans say the enhanced payments should be scaled back because, combined with standard unemployment aid, they provide more money to many people than they would earn on the job. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies