Democrats and Republicans rip into the White House's $1.8 trillion stimulus offer, dampening chances of $1,200 stimulus checks and coronavirus relief before the election

By Joseph Zeballos-Roig

The Trump administration's $1.8 trillion stimulus offer is receiving significant backlash from both Democrats and Senate Republicans, dampening the odds of a government rescue package to keep individuals and businesses afloat ahead of the election.

In a letter to her caucus on Saturday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the plan "insufficient" and said it amounted to "one step forward, two steps back." She listed several concerns with the White House's proposal, including on state and local aid, unemployment benefits, and child care.

"When the President talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold," Pelosi wrote in the letter, adding she remained "hopeful" for a final deal.

Pelosi said Democrats will continue pushing for more funding and details from the administration. They're insisting on $2.2 trillion in further stimulus spending and the Democratic-led House approved an economic aid plan earlier this month. Negotiations between both sides are continuing this weekend.

Senate Republicans also assailed the offer in a conference call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Saturday morning for both its spending levels and certain measures, per sources briefed on the call, Politico reported.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said "there's no appetite right now to spend the White House number or the House number."

Read more: A $2.5 billion investment chief highlights the stock-market sectors poised to benefit the most if stimulus is passed after the election — and says Trump ending negotiations doesn't threaten the economic recovery

Then Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming warned that backing relief legislation widening the reach of the Affordable Care Act will be viewed as "an enormous betrayal by our supporters." Republicans are concerned the administration's plan includes a Democratic demand of an ACA tax credit expansion which could lead to taxpayer funding of abortions. Democrats challenge the characterization.

"I don't get it," said Sen. Rick Scott of Florida about the plan's large price tag. He has also long been critical of providing state and local governments with federal aid as they grapple with large budget shortfalls.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The fierce criticism from Republicans and Democrats comes after the Trump administration increased its stimulus offer to $1.8 trillion, the largest one yet in a volatile stretch of talks with Democrats. President Donald Trump is renewing efforts to secure a deal on coronavirus relief only days after abruptly cutting off talks in a bid to boost his reelection odds.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Trump's White House policy chief spells out a 2nd-term agenda, including what would happen to taxes, drug prices, and manufacturing jobs

The White House plan contains $1,200 direct payments, $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits, $300 billion in aid to state and local governments, and funds for virus testing and tracing.

Yet the prospects of an economic aid package ahead of the election are diminishing, given the wide rifts between both parties on numerous measures like state aid and unemployment benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was cool to the odds of additional federal aid, saying on Thursday it was unlikely before Election Day.

The attacks underscore the obstacles facing a possible deal brokered between Pelosi and Mnuchin in on-again, off-again negotiations  — particularly in gaining support from Senate Republicans.

"The overall price tag matters a lot to conservatives. But just as important is the contents of the spending," Stephen Moore, an outside economic advisor to the White House, told Business Insider. "The contents make all the difference in the world."

Some Republican senators are critical of supporting relief spending that grows the national debt. But many economists are urging Congress to renew and approve federal aid programs as millions of Americans remain unemployed and the economy shows signs of weakening.

Republicans are gearing up to start the Supreme Court nomination process of Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Monday.

Read more: BlackRock's investment chief breaks down why Congress passing a second round of fiscal stimulus is 'quite serious' for markets and the economy — and pinpoints which sectors will benefit in either scenario