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Covid-19 Live Updates: Bipartisan House Group Proposes Stimulus Compromise

2020-09-15 11:26:57
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Amid a stimulus impasse, a bipartisan group is offering a $1.5 trillion compromise.

A bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers plans on Tuesday to present a $1.5 trillion plan to prop up the coronavirus-ravaged economy, making a last-ditch effort to break a stalemate on stimulus talks before November’s elections.

Members of the group — which calls itself the House Problem Solvers Caucus — concede privately that their framework stands little chance of becoming law. But the decision to offer it up publicly reflects frustration among rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties at the failure by their leaders to agree to another round of pandemic aid, and a reluctance to return home weeks before Election Day without cementing such help.

The proposal includes measures that enjoy bipartisan support, like reviving the popular Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and direct checks of $1,200 or more for American taxpayers, as well as more contentious ones like new legal rights and protections for workers and their employers.

But the bulk of its proposed spending would fall somewhere in the middle of what Republicans and Democrats have championed. The measure would reinstate lapsed federal jobless aid at $450 per week for eight weeks, then replace up to $600 weekly in lost wages for an additional five weeks. That is more than Republicans wanted, but less than the flat, $600-a-week benefit that lapsed at the end of July, which Democrats have insisted must be extended in full. And the proposal would send $500 billion to strapped state and local governments, less than the nearly $1 trillion Democrats included in their $3.4 trillion stimulus plan that passed the House in May, but roughly double what the White House has signaled it could support.

In unveiling the plan, the group is seeking to send a signal to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the lead White House negotiators — Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary — that there is ample common ground to be found in talks that have been dormant for weeks.

On Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released the fourth of its annual Goalkeeper reports, which track the slow but steady progress the world has made toward more than a dozen health-related goals set forth by the United Nations in 2015.

This year’s report, which Mr. Gates discussed in an interview with The New York Times, was unrelentingly grim. Not since 1870 have so many countries been in recession at once, it says.

Between 1990 and 2020, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty, which is now defined as living on less than $2 a day, shrank to less than 7 percent from 37 percent. In just the past few months, 37 million people have fallen back below the line, the report estimated.

One of the starkest conclusions in the report is that nearly twice as many deaths could be prevented if Covid-19 vaccines were distributed to all countries based on their populations rather than to the 50 richest countries first.

The assessment comes as the United States, stung harder by the virus than any other country, is retreating from the global health stage and seems focused primarily on saving itself.

Still, Mr. Gates harbors some optimism.

“It’s my disposition,” he said. “Plus, I’ve got to call these people up and make the pitch to them that this really makes sense — and I totally, totally believe it makes sense.”

By “these people,” he was referring to leading figures in the White House and Congress, whom he has personally lobbied to do “this”: namely, add an extra $4 billion to the fiscal stimulus package now under debate in Congress so that poor countries can get Covid-19 vaccines.

Ultimately Mr. Gates’s goal is far more ambitious: to double American foreign aid from less than 0.25 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent or more. He sees the pandemic as an opportunity to do that.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled on Monday that several restrictions ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf to combat the pandemic were unconstitutional. The decision struck down stay-at-home orders and the closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, directives that were issued in March and have since been suspended.

The judge also declared that a current order limiting the size of gatherings — no more than 25 people indoors and 250 outdoors — violated “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, said the administration was seeking a stay of the decision and an appeal. William Shaw Stickman IV, the judge who ruled on the case, was nominated to the bench by President Trump in 2019.

Mr. Trump, at an event in Arizona, celebrated the decision, calling it a “great ruling.”

As in other states, many Republican politicians in Pennsylvania have been steadfastly opposed to their state’s pandemic mitigation strategy, with some urging the governor’s impeachment. In July, the State Supreme Court rejected a suit filed by Republican legislators seeking to end Mr. Wolf’s emergency authority.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the governor, including Representative Mike Kelly, a Republican whose district is in western Pennsylvania, were among the plaintiffs in the suit that was decided on Monday.

“The court believes that defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus,” Judge Stickman wrote. “However, good intentions toward laudable ends are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge. Indeed, the greatest threats to our system of constitutional liberties may arise when the ends are laudable, and the intent is good — especially in a time of emergency.”

In a statement, the governor’s spokeswoman said that “the actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save, lives in the absence of federal action.”

Dr. Wu’s estimate that a vaccine could be ready in November is not far-off from predictions made by President Trump. His administration has told state officials to be ready to start distributing one as soon as late October. That would be just before the presidential election, and the timing raised concerns that a vaccine could be rushed for political reasons. A group of drug companies racing to develop a vaccine has pledged not to release anything that does not meet efficacy and safety standards.

A vaccine approved by Russia in August was met with skepticism from experts who warned against rushing normal procedures, and Russian and Chinese vaccines have been criticized over their designs. Health officials have warned against thinking of a vaccine as a “silver bullet,” saying that even if one is approved before the end of the year, it will take time to produce and distribute and will not mean an immediate end to pandemic restrictions.

In other developments around the world:

Struggling hotel owners, some with Trump ties, seek a federal bailout.

Many hotel executives, including some who are friends of President Trump, are in precarious financial positions.

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the billionaire investor and major donor to Mr. Trump, has run into an unexpected patch of red ink thanks to the pandemic: He has struggled to keep up with payments on $1.97 billion in Wall Street debt he used to buy a collection of more than 160 hotels.

Monty Bennett, another big donor to Mr. Trump, recently halted payments owed on the $2.6 billion worth of Wall Street debt used to acquire his own hotel collection.

Imminent monetary default” is the term a Wall Street research firm used this summer to describe more than $300 million in debt on a luxury hotel in Austin, controlled by Doug Manchester, whom Mr. Trump nominated to serve as ambassador to the Bahamas after Mr. Manchester and his wife donated more than $3 million to Mr. Trump’s political causes.

The situation has fueled an intense lobbying campaign aimed at persuading the Trump administration, the Federal Reserve and Congress to rescue hundreds of hotel industry players.

Industry executives and their lobbyists say a federal rescue will save thousands of jobs and help local economies, and are hoping their argument resonates with a president who is a hotelier himself. They are making the case that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has the power to extend existing coronavirus relief efforts to the commercial real estate sector, which so far has been cut off from most of the stimulus money.

But Congress prevented Mr. Mnuchin from tapping the main pot of $454 billion in coronavirus relief funds on his own, and doubts exist in the Treasury Department about the economic case for propping up a relatively small slice of the market that would primarily benefit wealthy investors who knowingly made high-risk bets.

One industry lobbyist involved in the negotiations said department officials remained concerned that some of the borrowers — which include hotels, shopping malls and other commercial real estate — may be “zombies” that are not going to survive, and taxpayer money sent to help them out would be lost.

High schools and universities in Pakistan opened Tuesday after being closed for almost six months. Online classes were offered in most schools.

Students were divided into two groups, which attend classes on alternate days.

Officials said that they would monitor the situation for a week and if things remain under control, classes for young children would begin in the coming weeks.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the prime minister on health, said that school authorities would try to ensure that social distancing is maintained during classes.

“The most important role will be that of a mask,” Mr. Sultan said, stressing that parents should make sure that their children wear masks in schools. Mr. Sultan said students who are sick or have cough or fever should stay home.

Selected schools will undergo testing to keep a check on any possible spread of the virus. If security protocols are broken, local officials have the power to close or fine a school.

The academic year is likely to be prolonged, officials said.

Pakistan has documented at least 300,000 cases of the virus and nearly 6,400 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

An American who tested positive for the virus may face charges after going barhopping in Germany.

“It was vastly different from the dream,” said Je’nell Griffin, who flew into Gibraltar from Los Angeles, and had never heard of Gibraltar until it appeared at the top of a Google search for “the easiest place to get married in Europe.” “But in the end, the reality of being married to my person far outweighed any vision.”

Many of the marriages being celebrated in Gibraltar, like Ms. Griffin’s, involve an American citizen marrying a partner from another country, because of the numerous hurdles the Trump administration has placed on immigration and travel.

“We were just tired of constantly being disappointed by all the immigration restrictions that worked against us,” Ms. Griffin said, referring to the sweeping travel ban that prevented her British fiancé from visiting her in the United States. Now that they are married, he is exempt from the ban because he is a spouse.

Even before the pandemic, Gibraltar was a popular wedding destination because of the minimal bureaucracy involved in tying the knot there. Couples are required to present their passports and birth certificates, and stay in the territory overnight either before or after their wedding.

There is a history to Gibraltar weddings: John Lennon married Yoko Ono there, in 1969, after facing a series of setbacks in other countries.

“We chose Gibraltar because it is quiet, British and friendly,” Mr. Lennon is quoted as saying in the book “The History of British Rock and Roll.”

Reporting was contributed by Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Jennifer Jett, Eric Lipton, Salman Masood, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Claire Moses, Campbell Robertson, Christopher F. Schuetze, Michael D. Shear, Jeanna Smialek, Sui-Lee Wee, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.

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