“The nation has seen a dramatic surge in both cases and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to that pain, our economy is facing one of its greatest challenges since the Great Depression. Over one fifth of the workforce has requested unemployment assistance,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell. “Now is the time for action, not continued delays and political posturing.”
Senate Republicans and the White House have been eyeing late July as the time frame for putting together another coronavirus bill, after passing four bills in March and April pumping about $3 trillion into the economy. The Democratic-led House passed another massive relief bill 45 days ago, but Republicans declared it dead on arrival in the Senate and Trump threatened to veto it.
Congress is in session this week, but lawmakers then plan to leave Washington for a two-week recess for the Fourth of July. There are no plans to pass coronavirus legislation before the recess.
In response to the Pelosi-Schumer letter, a McConnell spokesman pointed to comments McConnell made Friday in Kentucky, when he said: “In July, we’ll take a snapshot of where the country stands, see how the jobs are coming back, see where we think we are. And if there’s a final rescue package, that’s when it will develop and it will start, once again, in my office … the House efforts are simply not practical.
“So we will sit down in July and figure out what seems to fit the way forward based on the conditions a few weeks from now,” McConnell said. “One thing I can tell you will certainly be in the bill — it’s not negotiable — liability protection for hospitals, doctors, nurses, businesses, universities, K-12 related to the coronavirus.”
McConnell’s position has been essentially unchanged since April.
Meanwhile, some critical deadlines are approaching when relief measures will expire. Enhanced unemployment benefits passed as part of the $2 trillion Cares Act in March will expire on July 31. The small-business Paycheck Protection Program will stop accepting new loan applications on Tuesday, even though about $100 billion is left in the program.
“We are outraged that instead of holding bipartisan, bicameral negotiations during the June work period, you chose to prioritize the confirmation of right-wing judges and several Republican-led committees devoted precious time to chasing President Trump’s wild conspiracy theories,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “The House has acted. It is unacceptable that the Senate would recess without addressing this urgent issue.”
On Sunday, Vice President Pence held an event in Dallas where he urged Americans to wear face masks and practice social distancing as the United States surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases. Arizona, Florida and Texas have emerged as the new hot spots.
Democrats have been calling for a national testing strategy and also want to send more money to state and local governments, some of which have been forced to lay off employees in droves. Senate Republicans are divided on what to do next, or whether another relief bill is even needed.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), whose state is seeing a surge in new cases, told reporters at the Capitol on Monday that another relief bill is “inevitable” given the state of affairs. Cornyn said it needed to include liability protections for businesses, but after observing what is happening in Texas he said a testing strategy also is needed.
“I think what we need more than anything else is not just more testing, we need a testing strategy. Because a lot of these new cases are people between the ages of 20 and 59. And they are people letting their guard down, going to bars," Cornyn said. "I think now cries out for a strategy that tests more asymptomatic people so we can get a handle on the community spread, which is what’s going on now.”
In the months since Congress last acted on bipartisan coronavirus legislation, partisanship has increased on various fronts at the Capitol. That’s leading some lawmakers to begin expressing concerns about their ability to muster the political will to deliver on another relief bill — especially as the election approaches.
“Every day we’re closer to the election, every day bipartisan legislation gets harder,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, said in an interview. “But the reality is we need another coronavirus bipartisan package to put the funds we need for vaccines and research, more money in public health, assistance to businesses, encouragement for people to go back to work with appropriate protections. All those things are going to require, again, us to work together. And right now, since we’ve passed that fourth package, we’ve been pulling apart rather than pulling together.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told reporters late last week that “You have 53 different opinions on what to do right now" — the number of Republicans in the Senate. Braun also argued that “I think the economy is going to surprise us” by rebounding.
On Monday, in another response to the crisis, the House moved to pass a bill called the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act including more than $100 billion in emergency rental assistance and homeowner assistance, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and billions to respond to and prevent coronavirus outbreaks among homeless people, among other provisions.