As negotiations regarding the GOP's proposed HEALS Act continue to lead to dead ends, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is considering rolling out a smaller stimulus package to target key issues. Speaking with PBS NewsHour Wednesday as the proposal entered its third day of negotiations, McConnell revealed that a smaller bill extending the soon-to-expire unemployment benefits could potentially form.
Noting that "many things around here happen at the last minute," McConnell, when asked if he was seriously considering a smaller bill or a short-term option, said that "we're looking at all options," according to The Hill. He explained that "hope springs eternal that we'll reach some kind of agreement either on a broad basis or a more narrow basis to avoid having an adverse impact on unemployment."
The $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit is currently set to expire on Friday. Throughout discussions regarding the next stimulus package, it has proven to be a sticking point among Democrats and Republicans. Under the HEALS Act, the benefit would be extended, though the total would be slashed from $600 to just $200 per week, a measure that would last through September. Beginning in October, a new formula would be implemented that would cap unemployment benefits at 70 percent of a person's wages before they had lost their job.
Although some Democrats have suggested that they would be willing to compromise on this portion of the package for the sake of getting it passed sooner rather than later, other provisions of the bill have proven controversial along both sides of the aisle. McConnell even recently acknowledged that approximately 20 Republicans opposed the legislation, with Sen. Ted Cruz calling it "a mistake" that offers "the wrong approach."
Since it was introduced on Monday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have met daily with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Those discussions, however, have led nowhere, with Meadows claiming that they are "still miles apart on a number of issues" and that "I would say there are more issues we're apart on than where we're closer to consensus."
As a result, congressional lawmakers are searching for a "plan B," with one of those alternatives being a smaller package to target the most pressing matters, as McConnell had suggested. Such a suggestion is reportedly even supported by President Donald Trump, who had called the HEALS Act "semi-irrelevant" due to the number of topics that would be met with opposition.
At this time, it remains unknown if a smaller bill will be the end result. It is also unclear when such a bill would be presented. The enhanced unemployment benefit is set to expire on July 31, affecting tens of millions of Americans.