Pelosi, Schumer call for im­me­di­ate talks on new coro­n­avirus re­lief bill

The Washington Post - - ECONOMY & BUSINESS - BY ERICA WERNER erica.werner@wash­post.com

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.) on Mon­day to im­me­di­ately start ne­go­ti­a­tions on a new coro­n­avirus re­lief bill.

Their de­mand comes with cases spik­ing sig­nif­i­cantly in a num­ber of states but lit­tle ur­gency from con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and the White House to re­spond.

“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 that pumped 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 are set 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 Pelosi and Schumer’s 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 added. “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 July 31. The small-busi­ness Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram will stop ac­cept­ing new loan ap­pli­ca­tions 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 rightwing 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 masks and prac­tice so­cial dis­tanc­ing as the United States sur­passed 2.5 mil­lion con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases. Ari­zona, Florida and Texas have emerged as the new hot spots.

Democrats have been call­ing for a na­tional test­ing strat­egy and 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 and whether an­other re­lief bill is even needed.

“You have 53 dif­fer­ent opin­ions on what to do right now,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-ind.) told re­porters late last week, re­fer­ring to the num­ber of Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate. Braun also ar­gued that “I think the econ­omy is go­ing to sur­prise us” by re­bound­ing.

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.

“We will sit down in July and fig­ure out . . . the way for­ward.” Sen. Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.), on the tim­ing of a new mea­sure

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/SHUT­TER­STOCK

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-calif.), along with Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), wrote that they want faster ac­tion on a fresh round of eco­nomic as­sis­tance.

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