Amid stalemate, bipartisan group of lawmakers floats $1.5 trillion compromise for COVID-19 relief

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A general view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., as seen near blossoming trees with tourists walking by on March 11, 2020. - Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/TNS

A group of moderate lawmakers rolled out a $1.5 trillion compromise plan Tuesday that they hope will break the partisan logjam on Capitol Hill over how much money to spend on shoring up the U.S. economy amid continued financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The stimulus compromise, presented by 50 members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, is larger than the half-trillion-dollar bill favored by Senate Republicans, but smaller than the $3.4 trillion rescue package approved by House Democrats this spring.

The middle-ground measure would bankroll several provisions that saw bipartisan support in the first $2.2 trillion stimulus signed into law in March, including another round of $1,200 direct checks to most U.S. taxpayers and more funds for the small business-benefiting Paycheck Protection Program.

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., one of 25 Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told reporters at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol that a compromise “must be possible because failure is not an option.”

“This isn’t a game,” said Rose, who, like many Problem Solvers, faces a potentially difficult reelection race in November. “This isn’t a red state or a blue state issue. This is an American issue and we must come together as Americans and get the job done.”

New York Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, agreed.

“Americans deserve a functioning Congress that can rise to the challenge and deliver the relief they need,” said Reed.

The attempt at compromise marked a last-ditch effort at getting any type of stimulus legislation done before November’s election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have made no progress on reconciling their drastically different stimulus blueprints, and members on both sides of the aisle are increasingly acknowledging that another rescue bill seems all but impossible before Election Day.

Still, Pelosi said Tuesday she has instructed her members to stay in session until a deal is reached.

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” the speaker said on CNBC.

It’s unclear if Pelosi would consider the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal, though it appears unlikely as she’s been firmly opposed to a piecemeal approach.

The other provisions proposed by the Problem Solvers largely try to bridge Republican and Democratic priorities.

The federal unemployment enhancement benefit that expired in July would be renewed at $450 per week for eight weeks, with the possibility of extending it for another five weeks at $600 afterward. The $3.4 trillion bill that passed the House in May proposes to extend the federal unemployment boost at $600 per week through next year, while GOP leaders don’t want to renew the extra jobless assistance at all.

The Problem Solvers Caucus also proposes giving $500 billion to cash-strapped local governments in states like New York. That’s less than the $1 trillion proposed by House Democrats, but nearly double what Republicans and President Donald Trump want.

The remaining funds proposed by the Problem Solvers would go toward COVID-19 testing and health care, schools and the financially imperiled Postal Service, which must deliver millions of mail-in and absentee ballots in November’s election.

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