Senate Republicans said they would consider a new round of federal coronavirus aid in July.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after meeting privately with GOP lawmakers Tuesday that the Senate would weigh new federal relief for businesses, treatments and vaccines, and economic help for businesses and individuals in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has been surging in some states.
“We will be putting together a bill when we come back,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Health subcommittee. “So, a month from now, we should be in the final stages of getting that bill together.”
The Senate leaves town for a two-week recess on Thursday and plans to be out of session for most of August, so the measure would be considered in the work period before the August recess, McConnell said.
“What we’re going to do as we’re home and until we come back here is continue to assess the spiking cases, the return of the economy and looking for the best ways to help America resume their normal life, all of us as Americans, safely smartly wisely, and is there an additional amount of money that’s going to need to be spent to allow that to continue,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is a member of the GOP leadership, after meeting with Republicans.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said any new aid package the Senate considers would include lawsuit liability protections for schools, businesses, and the healthcare industry to facilitate reopening the economy. McConnell did not rule out providing more money for those who are unemployed but said the measure would not extend the extra $600 in unemployment insurance those out of work are now receiving each month.
Republicans have been critical of the money, which they said incentivizes people to avoid returning to work because it bolsters their earnings beyond what they are paid by their employers while on the job.
“Unemployment is extremely important,” McConnell said. “And we need to make sure for those who are not able to recover their jobs, unemployment is adequate,” McConnell said. “That is a different issue from whether we ought to pay people a bonus not to go back to work.”
Blunt said the aid package would, at the very least, address treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus.
“I’ve already asked my appropriating subcommittee that does the health and education and labor appropriations to begin to put a package together that will ensure we have more testing, that we have continued to work on therapeutics, and we have the money we need to move forward with the vaccine,” Blunt said.
Republicans rejected a massive coronavirus aid package the House passed in May.
The $3 trillion measure will not be considered in the Senate, McConnell said.
It includes a federal pension bailout, hazard pay for workers, and a new round of direct payments to individuals and families, among many other provisions.
Senate Democrats criticized McConnell Tuesday for failing to take up the House bill, pointing out it includes new funding to help hospitals that could be affected by a new surge in coronavirus cases as well as aid to state and local governments left with major budget deficits.
The extra federal unemployment benefits run out at the end of July.
“I hope that by then the senator from Kentucky will feel the sense of urgency,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said. “Even before then, we ought to be addressing this. Why have we wasted all of this time? We should give families peace of mind and businesses the support they need to get back in business. It’s time for us to move in the Senate. I don’t know what Sen. McConnell’s been waiting for.”
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