McConnell eyes next coronavirus package after July recess

Marianne LeVine and Sarah Ferris
Politico

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday gave his clearest signal yet that Republicans are willing to move swiftly on another coronavirus relief package, after some states have seen a spike in cases.

The Kentucky Republican said that the Senate will focus on the next coronavirus package when it returns from the two-week July 4 recess, with the goal of finishing before both chambers depart for their lengthy August break.

That period “dovetails nicely with the perfect time, to take an assessment of the economy and the progress we’re making on the health care front and see if there is additional assistance needed for our health care providers, ” McConnell said.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added that “a month from now we should be in the final stages of getting that bill together” and that talks are starting on a package that will “ensure we have more testing, that we continue to work on therapeutics and that we have the money we need to move forward with a vaccine.”

But negotiations are likely to be even more painful in this round of talks, with Republicans and Democrats divided over what to do with billions of dollars in programs that are set to expire at the end of July. One such program — the extra $600 per week in jobless benefits — has been a financial lifeline for America’s 44 million unemployed, but the two sides can’t agree whether to renew it. Republicans argue that the program provides a disincentive to return to work.

McConnell said Tuesday that “unemployment is extremely important” but added “that is a different issue from whether we ought to pay people a bonus not to go back to work.”

Democrats have long demanded another round of relief. In mid-May, the House passed its own recovery package, which would deliver billions in aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, as well as hazard pay for frontline workers, housing and food assistance, and another round of stimulus checks to many Americans.

In a letter sent Monday to McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of being “missing in action” when it comes to coronavirus. In recent weeks, both the House and Senate focused their attention on police reform after the killing of George Floyd by police and waves of nationwide protests over racial injustice.

Senate Republicans have dismissed calls for immediate additional legislation after Congress spent $3 trillion within three months — one of the largest economic recovery efforts on record. Republicans also argue that much of the money from the $3 trillion package has yet to be spent.

Many lawmakers of both parties believed — and hoped — that the economy would rebound on its own as soon as states began to loosen their restrictions on businesses. But the gradual reopening in some parts of the country has, instead, spurred another spike in cases, creating further financial uncertainty in states like Texas and Florida.

The looming deadlines for boosted unemployment benefits and provisions protecting residents from evictions increases the pressure on the Senate to reach a swift agreement when it returns. And McConnell made it clear Tuesday that the Senate will leave for its scheduled August recess.

“We’re gonna stay on the schedule that I’ve announced earlier in the year, which means we will not be here in August,” McConnell said.

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