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Why the path forward for coronavirus stimulus may be at a 'more granular level'

Ben Werschkul
·Senior Producer and Writer
·4-min read

This week in coronavirus stimulus negotiations has been a whirlwind of activity that appears to be nearing an end with both sides still at an impasse.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion bipartisan proposal that generated excitement and even got the partial backing of Democratic leaders on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that the proposal was a nonstarter in his chamber. He again pushed to pass his own measure during a speech on the floor.

He said these are provisions “that the president is ready and willing to sign into law," and they should return later to "keep debating the areas where we disagree."

McConnell’s own smaller proposal has the support of the White House while some of his fellow Republicans have criticized it as a “messaging bill.” Later on Tuesday, McConnell spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi without immediate news of any sort of breakthrough.

“I want it to happen and I believe we are getting very close to a deal” President Trump also said on Thursday during a White House event.

And in addition to the fight over the top-line numbers, deep divisions appear to remain on provisions within the respective proposals, like aid for states and localities. Another example is liability reform which McConnell has called crucial, while Democrats, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) have called a “poison pill.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), hold a news conference after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 1, 2020. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), hold a news conference on Capitol Hill on December 1. (TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

"The truth is simple, this has always been about policy differences," McConnell said Thursday, not an "arbitrary number."

Legislating at ‘a slightly more granular level’

If – as many are predicting at this point – a large-scale stimulus deal isn’t possible in what remains of 2020, an influential Republican senator (and ally of McConnell) sees the chance of a large deal also an uphill climb in 2021 once President-elect Joe Biden is in office.

“I've come to believe that we would do a lot better and we'd have a lot more bipartisanship and bipartisan success if we legislated at a slightly more granular level,” Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

He calls the approach a “confidence-building exercise and one that would allow us to realize that there's a lot that can be done if we don't tie everything to everything else.”

Lee is chairman of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee and Utah’s senior senator. He also sits on the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees and has been a close ally of President Trump during his four years in office.

He points to smaller initiatives that, while they would be important, fall short of the grand deals Biden would need to fulfill his campaign promises.

“There are plenty of areas where the parties are at odds with each other, plenty of areas where they're not,” Lee said. “Take, for example, the Child Tax Credit.”

He said increasing the per child tax credit is something that could find bipartisan support in 2021.

On stimulus itself, Lee said senators should be able to look at the proposals and “amend them and make them better and figure out where compromise could be achieved.”

McConnell has advocated a similar approach. “I promise our deep differences will still be here to debate” next year, he said Thursday. Of course, the power of Republican leaders like McConnell and Lee to dictate the parameters of the conversation could be curtailed if Democrats sweep the two runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January.

Throughout the year Speaker Pelosi has preferred to negotiate these larger packages behind closed doors and then unveil them for an up or down vote.

U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, questions Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election", in Washington, U.S., November 17, 2020. Bill Clark/Pool via REUTERS
Senator Mike Lee of Utah in November. (Bill Clark/Pool via REUTERS)

The approach largely worked in March when a flurry of Coronavirus stimulus measures became law. Since then, it’s largely been gridlock.

Lee suggests that perhaps Biden’s history in the Senate could be an asset especially if he “chooses to utilize those relationships and get feedback from members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle in deciding where to push and where not to push.”

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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