Stimulus Package Update: Why Testing Language Is Holding Up Checks

(CBS Detroit) — Talks on a second stimulus package seem to be going nowhere fast. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agree on many aspects of a deal that would cost somewhere between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion. Among them are the need for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and additional weekly unemployment benefits from the federal government.

How much additional unemployment insurance remains in dispute, along with the amount of aid for state and local governments. Another point of contention is the language around testing and contact tracing. At one point the White House had agreed to accept the House’s language with “minor” edits. Pelosi, however, didn’t see the subsequent edits as minor. She has since seemed optimistic that the two sides could agree to common language and an agreement in general.

The disagreement over testing and tracing language continues as positive cases of COVID-19 trend in the wrong direction. Last Friday, the country set a single-day record for confirmed cases reported with 83,000. On Saturday, the country almost broke that record. Total confirmed cases have since surpassed 8.7 million, with more than 225,000 deaths. Average daily deaths over the past two weeks are up 10%.

>>READ: Stimulus Package Update: While Politicians Negotiate, Economic Damage Continues

On Monday, Wall Street reacted to the continuing rise in coronavirus case counts. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 900 points (3.2 percent) before finishing the day down 650 points (1.9 percent). It was the Dow’s worst day in a month. While the stock market is not the economy, it is a gauge of where the economy is heading. Markets have been buoyed in recent weeks by hopes that a stimulus package would help the economy through the continuing pandemic. With talks at a standstill, and the virus uncontrolled, more business closures and forced shutdowns seem likely in the near future. Some are already going into effect.

President Trump believes the high coronavirus numbers are the result of widespread testing.

Infectious disease experts disagree. While the U.S. has conducted more tests than any other country, the positivity rate is what concerns officials. That rate is currently 6.36 percent. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate below five percent before easing social distancing. Testing should depend on the epidemic’s size, not the population’s size.

>>READ: ‘Stimulus Checks Are The Least Important,’ When Drafting Aid Package, Says Economist

With the election a week away, the Trump campaign continued with three events in Pennsylvania on Monday. “It’s a choice between a Trump boom or a Biden lockdown,” he claimed.

The President, who recently recovered from COVID-19, did not mention the recent surge of domestic cases or the recent White House outbreak. An election based on his handling of the pandemic may not serve his interests. Candidate Joe Biden believes it helps him, however, and has been highlighting Trump’s failures on the matter. With over 30 percent of expected ballots cast, voters are currently deciding.

The lack of a second stimulus package will figure into their decisions as well. A big part of what’s holding up a deal between the White House and the House is the language about testing and tracing. And that may boil down to simply admitting the current scale and scope of the pandemic, something the Trump administration doesn’t want to do, let alone highlight, leading up to the election.

>>READ: Stimulus Package Update: What Happens To The Economy Without A Second Stimulus?

But, as Pelosi stated in a recent letter, “Unless we have a national plan for testing, tracing, treatment, mask-wearing, social distancing and other science-based steps to crush the virus and combat the disparities facing communities of color, we cannot safely reopen our schools and economy. In all of our legislation, we have stressed the importance of testing, but the Administration has never followed through. The Republicans’ continued surrender to the virus — particularly amid the recent wave of cases — is official malfeasance.”

It may all be a moot point anyway. The Senate is unlikely to pass a stimulus package four times the size of their own, and they have adjourned until the week after the election.