Late in the evening on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell informed lawmakers in the chamber that, following a vote to pass a historic $2 trillion economic relief package, the Senate would close for business until April 20. He said it was to protect senators and staff from the spread of the coronavirus.
But McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, hinted that more economic aid might be needed and that the Senate should “stay nimble” and prepare to return sooner.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McConnell’s Democratic counterpart across the Capitol, suggested that members of Congress shouldn’t count on remaining away so long.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters last week that the latest economic aid package, the largest passed by Congress in history, had — despite its size and cost — fallen short of addressing all of the financial and health needs caused by the pandemic, which has slowed the U.S. economy to a halt and sickened tens of thousands.
Pelosi said House Democrats are preparing another round of federal aid to fill in the gaps that she believes were left by the Senate bill. That bill was initially drafted by Republicans but was negotiated with Senate Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on behalf of President Trump.
If Congress takes up new legislation, it would be the fourth spending bill to address the coronavirus.
Congress this month passed an $8.3 billion measure that included $3 billion for research and development of vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus and $2.2 billion for prevention and response to the virus, among other provisions.
Trump signed a second spending bill into law on March 18, this one with a price tag of more than $100 billion. The second measure includes money to provide free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave benefits, and more.
The bill Congress cleared last week, worth $2 trillion, was the biggest of all. It provides direct cash payments to individuals, expanded unemployment insurance benefits, help to states and local governments, and a massive loan program for businesses to stay afloat during the economic downturn caused by the virus prevention efforts.
Lawmakers in both parties have predicted that Congress will have to pass additional spending measures, and Pelosi is eager to take the lead this time after getting mostly sidelined by the Senate during the negotiations on the third bill.
Pelosi said she plans to draft phase four with her Democratic committee chairs but anticipates working with House and Senate leaders in both parties “to find as much common ground as we can” on a deal.
Pelosi provided a preview of the spending that Democrats would include in a fourth package. Democrats want to expand who qualifies for family and medical leave benefits. As an example, Pelosi said a person should have access to paid leave benefits if they must suddenly care for an aging parent who is left homeless because a nursing facility is shuttered due to the coronavirus.
Pelosi said new legislation must include stronger occupations, safety, and health protections for workers on the front lines of dealing with the coronavirus. She is also seeking a bigger bailout for struggling pensions, which she suggested Trump would support, and expanded food stamp payments.
Pelosi is also seeking to pump in more federal funding for state and local governments to deal with the cost of treating the coronavirus, which has overrun some hospitals and medical facilities.
The third coronavirus package provides hospitals and healthcare facilities $130 billion and gives state and local governments $45 billion through the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund.
“The bill … will be a large infusion of funds for hospitals, health systems, and state and local governments,” Pelosi said. “We want more.”
Republicans have acknowledged a fourth bill may be needed but so far do not share Pelosi’s enthusiasm for another massive spending measure.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said lawmakers could work remotely to come up with ideas if further legislation is needed. Still, he urged caution against rushing to draft another big bill right away.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have to write something else,” McCarthy said. “Let’s let this bill work. Just as long as we let the other two bills work as well, and whatever decision we have to make going forward. Let’s do it with knowledge. Let’s do it with the experience of what is on the ground at that moment in time.”
The post Congress mulls even more economic relief after passing $2 trillion aid package appeared first on Washington Examiner.