Trump Urges GOP to Go for ‘Much Higher Numbers’ on Covid Relief

Trump Urges GOP to Go for ‘Much Higher Numbers’ on Covid Relief

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Plus, the "most important" tool against the virus
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Trump Urges Republicans to Go for ‘Much Higher Numbers’ on Covid Relief

Maybe a coronavirus relief deal isn’t dead yet. While talks haven’t resumed, pressure is building — and now it’s coming from the White House, too.

After months of stalemate, President Trump on Wednesday urged his fellow Republicans to go for “much higher numbers” in a coronavirus bill and sought to blame Democrats for blocking additional stimulus checks, mischaracterizing their position. Seeming to suddenly realize that another aid package could boost his reelection chances, Trump tweeted:

“Democrats are ‘heartless’. They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).”

Republicans have thus far resisted “much bigger numbers,” refusing to take up a $3.5 trillion bill passed by the House and failing to coalesce around a $1 trillion package put together by their own party. Senate Republicans came together last week in support of a smaller $300 billion package. But that legislation was blocked by Democrats, who said it was woefully insufficient. That legislation did not include the additional round of direct payments that Trump said he wants.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reportedly said Wednesday that Trump was pressing for a bigger package than the one the Senate GOP proposed, with another round of stimulus checks added.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNBC Wednesday that he is “probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days.” Meadows also said that a $1.5 trillion proposal released Tuesday by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, “at least provides a foundation for us to come back to the table.”

Meadows added that a deal would have to happen within a week to 10 days and that he opposed the $500 billion provided for state and local government in the Problem Solvers’ proposal, saying he hoped the number would be closer to $250 billion to $300 billion.

Democrats seize on Trump’s tweet:
Democratic leaders said they were encouraged by Trump’s tweet and hoped the administration would resume talks. “We look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

But a group of House Democratic Committee leaders on Tuesday called the Problem Solvers proposal inadequate, meaning that Democrats will likely still press for more than $1.5 trillion in the next package.

Republicans cautious in their response:
“I’m not sure what higher numbers, what that means. That probably needs to get translated for us,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told The Washington Post. “But I know kind of what the threshold is for what we can get Republican votes for in the Senate, and 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.”

Another Republican, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, reportedly said that the Problem Solvers’ proposal could provide a workable model since it included provisions that would raise or lower the total cost depending on the path of the pandemic.

Under the plan, spending could total about $1.3 trillion if the pandemic lets up more than expected or $2 trillion if it worsens.

“Maybe the escalator clause concept gives everybody a little something to brag about,” Blunt said, according to the Post. “There’s a deal there. I think it would be really a shame if we don’t figure out how to grab hold of it.”

Blunt reportedly acknowledged that any deal would have to come with a price tag higher than $1 trillion, a level that many Republicans say is unacceptably high. “I don’t think you’d get hardly any Republicans,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said. “And you’d lose a bunch of fiscal conservatives, if you did anything other than what we voted on for last week.”

What it all means:
Trump’s tweet could open the door for more talks, but they also put renewed focus on GOP senators, raising the question of whether a larger plan can garner substantial support among Republicans. “Several Senate Republicans said their recent $300 billion offer was about the right amount, signaling doubt they could go higher,” the Post reports. And with Democrats still aiming for $2 trillion or so, the path to a bipartisan deal still isn’t all that much clearer today than it was last week.

The bottom line:
Time is growing short. More intense pressure from Trump could change the dynamics, but that doesn’t seem likely, and some Republicans indicated Wednesday they aren’t likely to follow Trump’s advice. “So the president has his opinion, we have ours,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said.

Quote of the Day: 'The Most Important, Powerful Public Health Tool We Have'

“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. … We have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70% and if I don’t get an immune response the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in testimony at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday on the coronavirus response. At an ABC News town hall Tuesday night, President Trump said “there are a lot of people think that masks are not good."

Trump Says Health Care Plan Is Ready, but White House Has No Details

President Trump said Tuesday that his long-promised replacement for the Affordable Care Act is ready to go. “I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you,” Trump told an audience member at a town hall meeting hosted by ABC News.

Trump has been claiming for more than a year that a "phenomenal" new health care plan is just weeks away from being revealed, with the delivery date forever slipping into the future. (Kaiser Health News has a rundown on the “health care plan that never comes” here.)

Asked about the plan Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the details are not available for public review. “It’s going to be a very comprehensive strategy — one where we’re saving health care while Democrats are trying to take health care away,” McEnany said. "I’m not going to give you a readout of what our health care plan looks like and who’s working on it. If you want to know, come work here at the White House."

Earlier in the day, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also said that Trump’s health care plan is ready and will be unveiled sometime before the election. The plan will focus on executive action, Meadows said, “with a legislative component that is more visionary.”

A review of Trump’s health care record so far.
Avoiding the problematic issue of Trump’s alleged plan, analysts at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released a report this week that examines President Trump’s record on health care over the last three and half years. Some highlights from the overview and the full analysis:

  • On the Affordable Care Act: “From the start of his presidential term, President Trump took aim at the Affordable Care Act, consistent with his campaign pledge leading up to the 2016 election. He supported many efforts in Congress to repeal the law and replace it with an alternative that would have weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions, eliminated the Medicaid expansion, and reduced premium assistance for people seeking marketplace coverage. While the ACA remains in force, President Trump’s Administration is supporting the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ACA in its entirety that is scheduled for oral arguments one week after the election.”

  • On Medicare and Medicaid: “The Administration has proposed spending reductions for both Medicaid and Medicare, along with proposals that would promote flexibility for states but limit eligibility for coverage under Medicaid (e.g., work requirements).”

  • On drug prices: “The President has made prescription drug prices a top health policy priority and has issued several executive orders and other proposals that aim to lower drug prices; most of these proposals, however, have not been implemented, other than one change that would lower the cost of insulin for some Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes, and another that allows pharmacists to tell consumers if they could save money on their prescriptions. The Trump Administration has also moved forward with an initiative to improve price transparency in an effort to lower costs, though it is held up in the courts.”

  • On the response to the coronavirus: “The Trump administration has not established a coordinated, national plan to scale-up and implement public health measures to control the spread of coronavirus, instead choosing to have states assume primary responsibility for the COVID-19 response, with the federal government acting as back-up and ‘supplier of last resort.’ The President has downplayed the threat of COVID-19, given conflicting messages and misinformation, and often been at odds with public health officials and scientific evidence.”

Federal Officials Release Plan to Distribute Coronavirus Vaccine

The federal government plans to being distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of approval by the Food and Drug administration, Trump administration health officials said Wednesday.
In an 11-page briefing from the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense and a 57-page “playbook” from the Center for Disease Control, federal officials outlined a plan to deploy an eventual vaccine, relying in part on the pharmaceutical distribution company McKesson. The vaccine, which is expected to require two shots delivered two or three weeks apart, would be free or very low cost, officials said.

Conflicting timelines.
There is no approved vaccine as yet, and health officials provided different estimates for when to expect one.

Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday that he believed that a vaccine would be approved by the end of the year, enabling all Americans to be vaccinated by the end of March 2021.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said the process would likely take longer. "I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized," Redfield said at the Senate hearing. “If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

President Trump said Tuesday that a vaccine may be ready “within weeks,” and he claimed Wednesday that Redfield’s timeline was mistaken. "Under no circumstances will it be as late as the doctor said," Trump said.

Distribution plan draws criticism.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said the federal plan was incomplete. “It’s clear that this is still not the kind of comprehensive, end-to-end national plan I’ve called for and that we desperately need," she said. “We are still missing important details on research and review, like what standards FDA will use to authorize a vaccine for emergency use … how we make sure disparities are addressed in clinical trials, and manufacturing, like how we address supply chain issues and avoid bottlenecks. And we still need more details on addressing disparities.”

Florida to End Trump’s Unemployment Aid Program

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is ending the temporary aid program authorized by President Trump that provides $300 per week in federal benefits for the unemployed. DeSantis provided no explanation for the move, which brings the program to an end two weeks early, but his administration said that concerns about the costs of the program were behind the decision.

Politico’s Gary Fineout reported late Tuesday that Florida’s unemployment benefits are so low that many beneficiaries collect too little money to qualify for the extra federal payments. Because the benefits are drawn from a disaster relief fund, states must provide $100 per week to match the $300 from the federal government, but many unemployed Floridians fall below that level. Some states are providing that minimum amount from their own unemployment systems, but Florida is opting not to raise its benefits to meet that requirement.

Florida appears to be the first state to end the program early due to costs, Fineout reported.

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