Republican senators say the White House conceded to Senate Republican demands during the negotiations — namely on money for contact tracing and testing, making funds available for schools that stay closed and dropping President Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut.
On school funding: After Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos warned that aid to schools would be withheld without them fully reopening, the Senate GOP pushed back and charted a different course.
According to Sen. Roy Blunt, a key negotiator in the GOP-White House deal, he said about half of the $70 billion for K-12 schools in the plan would be given regardless if they are open or not. The other half would “go out on the basis that you have more expenses if you’re back to school than you do if you’re not.”
Blunt added: “But none of the college money and only half of the elementary and secondary money would be conditional on returning to school. And that doesn’t mean returning to five-days-a-week school.”
On the payroll tax cut: The White House has acknowledged that it dropped the payroll tax cut, something that Republican senators indicated would do little to stimulate the economy.
On tracing and testing: And the White House agreed to ramp up testing to $25 billion after suggesting that there was already plenty of unspent money to use for testing and contact tracing. The GOP deal would provide $16 billion in new money, with an additional $9 billion redirected from the March stimulus law to spend on testing and tracing.
“We did get the $25 billion we wanted, but part of it was being sure they were gonna spend $9 billion that was not specifically allocated to testing on testing,” Blunt said.
How this unfolded: Several Republicans pointed out that the White House had to move quickly in the GOP direction in order to get a deal together.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican up for reelection, contended he was not concerned that it took all week to get their party’s proposal together, but noted the White House “moved in our direction.”
“We had to resolve some of the conflicts with the administration,” Tillis said. “They’ve moved in our direction, it’s a normal part of the sausage factory.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said a key issue that the White House and Senate GOP agreed to was how to defer student loan payments. He said the two agreed to continue deferring student loan payments after October “if you don’t have any income but once you start making the income, you’ll never have to pay more than 10 percent of it on your student loan after you deduct, rent, mortgage and food.”
Asked about Trump’s claim that testing is “overrated,” Alexander pushed back.
“I can give you my opinion on testing which is that testing is essential,” Alexander said. “And I think probably the most important activity we have going on in the government right now in terms of identifying the disease, containing it, and creating confidence to go back to school and that work is the work Dr. [Francis] Collins is doing in the National Institutes of Health to create new ways to get a quick test so you can get a result within an hour.”
Alexander added: “You can do that, then you can test whole classes, you can test teachers, you can test employees, there’ll be an oversupply of quick tests and I think all the discussions about testing with disappear.”
CNN’s Rebecca Grandahl contributed to this report