- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2020

House Democrats made one more pitch for their $3 trillion coronavirus recovery package on Wednesday, trying to boost momentum before Congress begins negotiations in earnest next week.

The Democrat-controlled House passed their bill in mid-May, but it’s been in limbo since then.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has said his chamber will begin hammering out details of a new relief deal next week and aims to pass it by the end of the month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the clock is ticking.

“Every day that goes by the anxiety deepens in the homes of America — the kitchen table concerns about how they’re going to pay bills, or how they’re going to put food on the table,” she said.

The House package, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or HEROES Act, includes more than $800 billion to state and local governments with severe budget crunches caused by the coronavirus crisis. It’s a major Democratic priority that didn’t make it into previous rescue bills and faces opposition from Republicans, who say it is a bailout for bloated blue-state governments.

The Democrats also want another round of direct payments to Americans of up to $1,200 per family member, an extension of supercharged unemployment benefits and $175 billion more for rent and mortgage subsidies.

The federal government already has spent nearly $3 trillion on coronavirus relief. The White House is eyeing a $1 trillion price tag for the next installment.

Republicans dismissed the HEROES act as a non-starter. But with COVID-19 cases spiking in several parts of the country and states struggling to reopen, they’ve said it’s time to take on another bill.

There is bipartisan agreement that unemployment benefits, direct payments to the public, and child care and schools should be included in the next package, though the size and scope of those elements will be a sticking point.

Mr. McConnell said the focus of the next bill will be “kids in school, jobs and health care,” putting a heavy emphasis on education.

“I know it will be costly,” he told reporters in Kentucky. “We need to find a way to safely get back to work, and I feel like the federal government will have to play a financial role in helping to make that possible.”

Mrs. Pelosi said the new package might need to increase $100 billion for education in the House-passed bill.

“Money as a precaution to protect the children — to have the spacing, small classes, more teachers needed, more personnel therefore across the board needed in a way that is that is safe for our children,” she said.

Mr. Trump wants students back in school in the fall, though teachers’ unions and some school officials are warning of health risks.

Senate negotiators are working on at least four years of coronavirus-related liability protections for hospitals, doctors, nurses, businesses, colleges and K-12 education, Mr. McConnell said.

“Unless you’re grossly negligent or intentionally engaged in harmful activity, we’re not going to allow an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of a pandemic health care crisis,” he said.

Unemployment insurance also is on the agenda for Senate Republicans, but they are leery offering benefits that make it more lucrative to be out of work than on the job, as is the case now for many of the unemployed.

A $600-per-week boost to federal unemployment benefits is due to expire at the end of the month, along with several other coronavirus-relief benefits, which the Democrats see as creating a hard deadline for the next bill.

The House is scheduled to be in session until July 31, while the Senate will return from its two-week break Monday and is scheduled to be in session until Aug. 7.

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