Congress returns with only days to pass new coronavirus relief as pandemic rages

Congress returns with only days to pass new coronavirus relief as pandemic rages


  • Congress returns to Washington to kick off talks on the next coronavirus relief bill.
  • Lawmakers face pressure to pass legislation before the end of the month, when the $600 per week federal unemployment insurance benefit is set to expire.
  • Republicans and Democrats have to resolve differences on several issues, including the jobless benefit, liability protections for businesses, aid to state and local governments and direct payments to Americans.

Congress returns to Washington this week facing a critical deadline to pass another coronavirus aid bill as the pandemic tears through the United States.

Lawmakers in the divided Congress will need to quickly decide how to resolve broad differences on the best tools to both blunt an outbreak spreading unabated and lift an economy battered by the health crisis. They will also have to contend with a president who has repeatedly downplayed the pandemic’s severity as it jeopardizes his chances of winning another term in the White House.

As negotiations kick off in what could become a bitter process during an election year, millions of Americans left jobless by the pandemic wait to see whether their incomes will suddenly plunge at the end of the month. After July, people receiving unemployment insurance will no longer get an extra $600 per week from the government — even as the U.S. unemployment rate stands higher than it did at any point during and after the 2008 financial crisis.

At the same time, the U.S. struggles to contain a disease that has infected and killed more people nationwide than in any other country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As the pandemic rages in Florida, Texas and other states, the country has now reported nearly 3.8 million Covid-19 cases and more than 140,000 deaths. The surge in cases has forced states such as California, the country’s largest, to roll back or pause their economic reopening plans.

Along with the enhanced jobless benefit — which is credited with boosting consumer spending while businesses are shut down — Congress will need to decide how to iron out differences on policies including liability protections for businesses, aid for state and local governments, direct payments to individuals and rent and mortgage assistance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aims to release an opening offer this week.

He and House Minority Leader Kelvin McCarthy , R-Calif., met with President Donald Trump about the developing relief plan on Monday. The president, who has pushed for both businesses and schools to swiftly reopen, can shape the views of GOP lawmakers in what he supports or opposes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the lead White House negotiator on previous coronavirus bills who also attended the meeting Monday, said he will start reaching out to Democrats to start bipartisan talks. Mnuchin, who reiterated the Republican desire to start with a roughly $1 trillion bill, said he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will attend the Senate GOP policy lunch Tuesday.

Both Mnuchin and Meadows will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer , D-N.Y., in Pelosi’s office on Tuesday afternoon, a source familiar with the meeting said

As details of McConnell’s legislation started to trickle out in news reports, Schumer criticized key provisions on Monday. He particularly took issue with a GOP proposal that would reportedly limit coronavirus-related lawsuits to “gross negligence or intentional misconduct,” along with a Republican push to cut or revise the boosted unemployment benefit.

“Unfortunately, by all accounts the Senate Republicans are drafting legislation that comes up short in a number of vital areas, such as extending unemployment benefits or funding for rental assistance, hazard premium pay for frontline workers, or investments in communities of color being ravaged by the virus, and many other necessary provisions,” Schumer wrote in a letter to colleagues. “Democrats will need to fight hard for these important provisions.”

McConnell argued for the legal shield Monday, saying, “We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic.” He also acknowledged the need to earn Democratic support, even in the Senate, where a bill will need at least some votes from the minority party to reach the necessary 60.

Any bill will have to get through both the Republican-held Senate and the Democratic-controlled House. As lawmakers work on a tight timeline, efforts to appease House Democrats could dampen support among Republican senators and vice versa.

Along with the critical deadline to craft financial support for unemployed Americans, a planned recess for all of August adds to the pressure Congress faces. Pelosi has said she would delay her chamber’s month at home to pass an aid bill, though it is unclear whether McConnell would take the same step in the Senate.

The House passed a sweeping $3 trillion rescue package in May but Republicans dismissed it as unrealistic. Both GOP leaders and Pelosi have pegged the cost of the Republican plan at roughly $1 trillion, though the speaker has said it is not enough money to address the crises.




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