Second stimulus checks: Senate GOP to unveil bill, will direct payments be included?

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WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 29: U.S. President Donald Trump’s name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country April 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department last week as most of the country remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — On Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Senate Republicans would introduce a targeted coronavirus relief package on Tuesday. While McConnell was short on details, he indicated it would focus on “health care, education, and economic issues.”

McConnell indicated he hopes for a vote “as soon as this week.”

This follows a similar statement made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

“Let’s do a more targeted bill now. If we need to do more in 30 days we’ll continue to do more. But let’s not hold up the American workers and American businesses,” Mnuchin said.

What’s not clear is whether the package would include a second stimulus check. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for direct payments in the next aid deal.

On Friday, President Donald Trump tossed out the idea of utilizing unused funds to pay for additional stimulus directed to Americans.

During a Friday news conference, Trump said Congress should redirect $300 billion in unused coronavirus pandemic relief funds for a second direct payment to Americans in need, according to the New York Post.

“We have $300 billion ready to go, all Congress has to do is say, ‘use it.’” said Trump.

Trump didn’t specify where the $300 billion figure comes from. The Post believes it involves unused business loan money included in the CARES Act passed back in March.

Vice President Mike Pence also voiced support for additional payments.

“Nobody wants to give direct payments to American families more than President Donald Trump. We sent those checks to American families, it helped people through this tough time,” Pence said in a Friday interview with CNBC.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration remains willing to work on a bipartisan agreement to help small businesses, the unemployed, children and schools.

“Let’s move forward on a bipartisan basis on points we can agree upon,” Mnuchin urged at a hearing by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “The president and I want to move forward.”

Mnuchin made the case that the economy’s recovery has strengthened in recent weeks, citing improved consumer spending, growth in manufacturing, and a rebounding housing market. It’s the failure of some states to reopen activity that is holding back the economy, he said.

But Democrats insisted that dire economic conditions persist for many. “Millions of Americans are now facing eviction, debt, and hunger,” said the panel’s chairman, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. “As the pandemic drags on, states, cities, and businesses are warning that more layoffs may be coming.”

With bipartisan agreement, Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March. Now the Trump administration and top congressional Democrats have been in a months-long stalemate over new relief legislation, with the two sides trillions of dollars apart. Lawmakers left Washington for the August recess without an agreement.

The impasse left millions of jobless people without a $600-per-week pandemic bonus unemployment benefit that had helped families stay afloat, left state and local governments seeking fiscal relief high and dry, and held back a more than $100 billion school aid package.

An estimated 27 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department, though the figure may be inflated by double-counting by states.

Mnuchin identified additional spending on aid to small businesses as the area where Democrats and Republicans are most likely to agree. In sometimes sharp exchanges, he and Democrats on the panel disagreed over the state of the economy and traded blame for the impasse over new rescue legislation.

Mnuchin pinned the blame on a refusal to compromise by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. While touting the economy’s partial recovery, he acknowledged that “we have more work to do.”

He said he doesn’t support the Democrats’ position for $2.2 trillion in spending in the next package, which contrasts with Republicans’ stance of $1 trillion. He added, however: “What’s more important is … getting money to American workers, American families, kids. There are tremendous areas of agreement, and that’s what we should be doing right away.”

“I would publicly say I am willing to sit down at the negotiating table with the speaker with no conditions whatsoever any time,” Mnuchin said.

After talking with Mnuchin last Tuesday, though, Pelosi released a statement saying, “Sadly, this phone call made clear that Democrats and the White House continue to have serious differences understanding the gravity of the situation that America’s working families are facing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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