Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints that Democratic negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, but a Tuesday afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.
Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Trump administration officials to declare more progress on reaching common ground in an aid package expected to include a second round of $1,200 direct payments. The Trump team agreed with that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.
"We really went down issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They made some concessions, which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they appreciated," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We're still far away on a lot of the important issues but we're continuing to go back."
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday's session was "probably the most productive meeting we've had to date." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week.
"I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that had been made by the Democrat negotiators," Meadows said.
New stimulus check plan would give more money to families
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a pointed reminder that she and Schumer are "legislators with long experience" and a track record of working complicated deals - a rejoinder to critics complaining that they are being too tough and that the talks are taking too long.
"We agree that we want to have an agreement," Pelosi said. "Let's engineer back from there as to what we have to do to get that done."
Another glimmer of hope emerged as a key Senate Republican telegraphed that the party may yield to Democrats on an increase in the food stamp benefit as part of the huge rescue measure, which promises to far exceed a $1 trillion target set by the GOP.
The food stamp issue - left out of earlier relief bills - is a top priority for Pelosi, among other powerful Democrats, who have passed a 15% increase in the food stamp benefit as part of their $3.5 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
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The overall talks are grinding ahead slowly, though urgency is growing among Senate Republicans, several of whom face tough election races and are eager to deliver a bill before heading home to campaign this month.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday that the chamber should not go on recess without passing the relief measure, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered a jobless benefit proposal that's more generous than a pending GOP alternative. Both are facing closer-than-hoped reelection bids in states that should be easy holds for Republicans.
Multiple obstacles remain, including an impasse on extending the $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit aid to the renters facing eviction. The benefit has helped sustain consumer demand over recent months as the coronavirus has wrought havoc. Pelosi wants to extend it through January at a $400 billion-plus cost, while Republicans are proposing an immediate cut to $200 and then replacing the benefit with a cumbersome system that would attempt to provide 70% of a worker's "replacement wage."
On the Senate floor, McConnell, R-Ky., continued to protest that Democrats are taking too tough a line. But he signaled he's far more flexible now than he was weeks ago.
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"The American people, in the end, need help," McConnell told reporters. "And wherever this thing settles between the president and the Democrats is something I am prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain parts of it."
Most members of the Democratic-controlled House have left Washington and won't return until there is an agreement to vote on, but the GOP-held Senate is trapped in the capital.
If the deal is approved by the middle of this month, it's possible Americans could start seeing direct payments as early as the end of August or early September.
More money for dependents
The GOP plan calls for checks up to $1,200 for most taxpayers plus an additional $500 for any dependent. The word "any" is the change that could result in additional dollars.
According to Yahoo Finance, parents of older high schoolers and college students claimed as dependents would get the bonus. This also includes anyone taking care of elderly relatives who are also claimed as dependents.
In the first round of stimulus payments, only parents of dependents under 17 received the additional $500.
"We also include, in the additional $500 for each dependent, some people that we didn't intend to leave out last time, but we did," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Monday. "So regardless of age, some of these dependents will now be helped."
A Democratic plan approved in the House in May proposed a similar structure for dependents but with the amount being $1,200 instead of $500.
Trump wants larger checks?
During a visit to West Texas last week, Trump hinted that a second round of stimulus checks could exceed the $1,200 payment amount issued in the first COVID-19 stimulus package.
When asked if $1,200 was enough, Trump said, "We're going to see. It may go higher than that, actually."
"I'd like to see it be very high because I love the people. I want the people to get it, you know, the economy is going to come back," Trump continued. "We saved millions of lives, but now we're bringing (the economy) back we gotta take care of the people in the meantime."
How much money will I get?
Outside of the dependent payment, here's how the payment up to $1,200 breaks down, according to CNBC:
* Individuals earning a gross adjusted income of up to $75,000 per year in 2019 will receive a $1,200 payment.
* Couples earning a gross adjusted income of up to $150,000 per year in 2019 will receive a $2,400 payment.
* The checks will be reduced by $5 for every $100 in income, phasing out completely at $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for couples.
* Individuals with no income and individuals who rely on benefits such as Social Security are eligible for the full $1,200 payment