WASHINGTON – The price tag for the next COVID-19 aid package could quickly swell above $1 trillion as White House officials negotiate with Congress over money to reopen schools, prop up small businesses, boost virus testing and keep cash flowing to Americans while the virus crisis deepens in the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday promised a new round of direct payments to earners below a certain income level, similar to the $1,200 checks sent in the spring. President Donald Trump insists on a payroll tax holiday for workers. And Democrats want billions to outfit schools and shore up local governments.
“Regretfully, this is not over,” McConnell said after a raucous private GOP lunch, urging Americans to learn to live with the new virus by wearing masks and practicing social distancing until a vaccine can be found.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting chief of staff Mark Meadows spent the day on Capitol Hill, meeting separately with McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others trying to broker a compromise between the GOP's emerging $1 trillion proposal with the House's more sweeping $3 trillion bill.
The lunch session grew heated as key Republican senators complained about big spending, vowing to stall the relief bill’s passage.
Supporters of the package “should be ashamed of themselves," Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said as he emerged.
Paul compared GOP backers of the spending to “Bernie bros” — referring to the young supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “This is insane. ... There's no difference now between the two parties.”
As a long line of senators rose to speak about aspects of the bill, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz asked his colleagues, “What in the hell are we doing?”