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Trump demands 'much larger' stimulus package — and deal could be close

(Image credit: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

President Trump may be pushing his own party to meet Democrats' demands for spending on a second stimulus package, including stimulus check 2, undercutting the hard-line Republican position that has contributed to an ongoing stalemate in Washington. 

On Wednesday (Sept. 16), Trump tweeted, "Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."

It's not clear how serious the president is in demanding additional funding for benefits like stimulus check 2, a federal unemployment-benefit supplement and relief for state and local governments. Trump didn't mention any number in his tweet, and The Hill reports that Republican lawmakers were caught off guard. 

"I think if the number gets too high, anything that got passed in the Senate would be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans, so it's going to have to stay in sort of a realistic range," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-South Dakota).

Thune had not seen Trump's tweet before he was asked about it by reporters, according to the Washington Post.

Pelosi under pressure

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is facing pressure from moderates in her own party to move forward with negotiations over a new coronavirus-relief bill. She said on Tuesday that the House would stay in session until a bill was passed. 

In a conference call with members of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, Pelosi defended the decision to stand firm on her most recent $2.2 trillion proposal, noting that while House members will be allowed to leave Washington for their districts this fall, they could be called back at any time to vote on a stimulus package. 

Many lawmakers are getting restless with the lack of movement, especially as Election Day inches closer. While the House already passed a second stimulus bill — the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act voted on in May — members are concerned that voters will take out their frustration on incumbents of both parties on Nov. 3.

"Every member of the leadership team, Democrats and Republicans, have messed up. Everyone is accountable," said Rep. Max Rose (D-New York), according to Politico. "Get something done. Get something done!"

What's on the table for stimulus check 2? 

Negotiations between Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows came to a halt in mid-August when the two sides couldn't agree on the total spending for a second stimulus bill. 

They were also at odds over how to resume federal supplements for state unemployment benefits — the first round of which expired July 31. 

Democrats and administration officials haven't resumed formal talks, although Pelosi has reduced her total offer to $2.2 trillion and Mnuchin has said he would be open to increasing the White House position to $1.5 trillion, narrowing the gap to just $700 billion. The Senate Republican leadership in July proposed an overall bill of $1.1 trillion, although that has yet to be voted on.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans last week failed to pass a separate $500 billion "skinny" bill, which would have provided a pared-down unemployment supplement but no stimulus check. 

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers — the Problem Solvers Caucus — has introduced an approximately $1.5 trillion plan that includes a second stimulus check plus $450 per week in unemployment (increasing to $600 after two months as long as the combined state and federal amount does not exceed an employee's previous income). 

While all sides have generally agreed on the need for another round of direct payments, most of the recent pared-down proposals have eliminated stimulus check 2 in favor of spending on extended federal unemployment benefits and other relief. Some Democrats have even suggested that focusing on a second stimulus check may be distracting from more pressing problems.  

"That $1,200 is a nice little sugar high, and I support giving another stimulus check, but a second check in and of itself alone — if we're not going to support state and local funding, if it's not going to include significant investments in testing, tracing capacity and infrastructure — all it is is a little sugar high," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). "It's not going to solve the critical issues of the pandemic."