- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Senate is set to push ahead with a vote on the House coronavirus bill while Republicans ramp up their efforts to unify around a set of priorities for the third economic package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the plan to leave the two packages separate Tuesday, though the timing of when his chamber will pass the House’s relief bill is still unclear.

He dismissed suggestions of amending the House bill to make it broader, which would have forced the House to return and repass the legislation. The Republican leader acknowledged, though, that some of his GOP colleagues are unhappy with the bill as written, and urged them to focus on addressing those concerns later.

“My counsel is — to gag and vote for it anyway,” Mr. McConnell said.

However, Sen. Rand Paul is still pushing for a vote on an amendment before the Senate votes on the House bill, delaying the “warp speed” vote that Mr. McConnell wanted.

“If they allow us an amendment, we’ll allow them to do it more quickly,” he said, according to The Hill.

The bill mandates free testing for the coronavirus, funds more unemployment programs, and pays for sick leave for those who contract the virus or need to care for someone who does if they work for a company with a cap of 500 employees.

It also shores up food programs for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children, and it bolsters state Medicaid programs so health care providers can handle an influx of patients.

A version passed the House on Monday evening, after lawmakers tweaked some paid-leave provisions.

Though there is no official price tag on the House bill, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates it will cost around $104 billion.

Mr. McConnell vowed to not adjourn the Senate until it has written and passed a third economic package to address the economic fallout — a plan that is still in its very early stages as lawmakers across Capitol Hill float their own priorities for the economic fix.

To get his party on the same page, Mr. McConnell crafted three task forces to work on putting together a Republican version of the bill and negotiate with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin to ensure it has White House approval.

“I’ve told everyone else if they have a really good idea, how to funnel it into a particular task force,” he said.

The administration initially proposed a $850 billion plan Tuesday, which would include aid for hard-hit sectors, particularly the airline industry which is lobbying the government for assistance after dramatically pulling back on flights. White House aides say the package could include more than $50 billion for airlines, about $500 billion in payroll tax cuts, and $250 billion or more in Small Business Administration loans.

That figure soared, however, to $1 trillion by Tuesday afternoon.

There’s also been an uptick of GOP support for immediate cash handouts to Americans — initially proposed by Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Mnuchin said they were strongly considering giving Americans $1,000 each within the next two weeks to help with the impact of the coronavirus.

“The president has instructed me we have to do this now,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “This is no fault to American workers. For medical reasons, we are shutting down parts of the economy.”

The president had been pushing for a payroll tax cut to get more money to the American public, but acknowledged Tuesday it could take too long for people to feel that impact. The proposal also failed to get any enthusiasm on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, Democrats have laid out their own priorities for the upcoming package.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called for at least $750 billion that would go toward shoring up hospital resources, affordability of coronavirus treatment, fund public transportation and emergency child care and pause payments on loans immediately.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the third bill to expand on benefits for workers, including ensuring first responders and health workers have paid leave if they need it. She also wants refundable tax credits for self-employed and gig economy workers.

“During negotiations, the Democratic House will continue to make clear to the Administration that any emergency response package must put Families First before any aid to corporate America is considered,” she said in a statement.

Mrs. Pelosi and Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, began talks Tuesday with Mr. Mnuchin about the next package and specifically concerns about the airline industry.

They also spoke with airline CEOs about their urgent need as well as the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka about expanding paid leave benefits.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide