Early Congress Divisons Over Next Step 04/01 06:14
The bipartisan partnership that propelled a $2.2 trillion economic rescue
package through Congress just days ago is already showing signs of strain,
raising questions about how quickly calls for massive followup legislation may
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The bipartisan partnership that propelled a $2.2 trillion
economic rescue package through Congress just days ago is already showing signs
of strain, raising questions about how quickly calls for massive followup
legislation may bear fruit.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and fellow Democrats are collecting
ideas for the next stab at stabilizing an economy knocked into free fall by the
coronavirus outbreak. Their proposals include money for extended unemployment
benefits, state and local governments, hospitals and a job-creating
infrastructure program, plus expanded job protections and benefits for workers.
"It's a wonderful opportunity," Pelosi told reporters this week, "because I
think our country is united in wanting to not only address the immediate needs
of the emergency and mitigation for the assault on our lives and livelihood,
but also how we recover in a very positive way."
Congress' top Republicans say not so fast. They want lawmakers to gauge how
well the huge, newly minted bailout programs are working and how the economy is
behaving. And they're accusing Pelosi of planning to use the next bill to win
Democratic priorities like environmental requirements and moving the country
toward ballot by mail elections.
"Let's see how things are going and respond accordingly," Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on Hugh Hewitt's talk radio show.
He said that could take weeks and added, "I would think any kind of bill coming
out of the House I would look at like Reagan suggested we look at the Russians
--- trust, but verify."
"I'm not sure we need a fourth package," House Minority Leader Kevin
McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures."
Throwing another wild card into the mix, President Donald Trump on Tuesday
blindsided congressional Republicans and embraced using the next round for a
massive infrastructure package. Many in both parties have supported such a
program before, but some Republicans have opposed it as too costly and there
have long been crippling disagreements over how to pay for it.
"It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely
on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4,"
Trump later told reporters that the Federal Reserve cutting its benchmark
interest rate earlier in March made it an ideal time to pursue an
infrastructure deal. "Our interest payments would be almost zero, and we can
borrow long term," Trump said. "People want to be in the United States, they
want to be invested in the United States."
There seems little doubt that if the economy remains near its current morbid
state, the major question facing lawmakers will be what the next bill should
look like, not whether to have one. Growing numbers of business close by the
day, consumer spending is plummeting and millions are losing jobs as much of
the country shelters at home, a devil's brew that could be lethal for
politicians to ignore before November's presidential and congressional
"I think there's a deal to be had this time" on infrastructure, said Rep.
Greg Walden of Oregon, top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce
Committee. Still, he said reaching agreement on another expensive package could
be harder after last week's enormous $2.2 trillion bill.
"We've already broken apart our grandkids' piggy bank. We're now getting
into the great-grandkids' piggy banks, so let's be thoughtful on this," he
Stephen Moore, a former Trump senior adviser now with the conservative
pro-business Committee to Unleash Prosperity, said he envisioned major problems
for Congress in reaching an agreement. He said while the economy will likely
need another large cash infusion to recover, Democrats pushing more spending
will clash with Republicans eager to use tax cuts instead, such as suspending
employers' payroll tax like Trump has proposed.
"This will be World War 4," he said.
Clearly the size, contents and timing of the next bill are in play. And the
Trump administration, lawmakers, lobbying and ideological groups are all
Discussions within the White House have been limited. Trump has publicly
suggested he'd support extra money for state and local governments and for some
type of hazard pay for front-line medical workers.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely Democratic presidential
opponent, has said he wants additional direct payments to people beyond the
one-time $1,200 amounts many adults will get. He also wants increased Social
Security benefits and some student loan forgiveness.
Pelosi's proposals include easing limits on federal deductions for state and
local taxes, a curb the GOP-controlled Congress enacted in 2017 that's hit
high-income, Democratic-leaning states the hardest. Her suggestion has run into
opposition from both parties.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said
he'd like to create a federal office for overseeing national supply chains
disrupted by the crisis. Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., who chairs the Education and
Labor Committee, said he'd like to expand safety regulations to cover airborne
pathogens like the coronavirus and to cover essential workers like grocery
Others suggesting ideas include Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said
she'd like to address the strains the virus and the resulting confinement of
people at home are putting on mental health.
"We see domestic violence. We see substance abuse," she told reporters. "We
see levels of addiction that we wish were not present with us. And so it's
something that I don't think we have fully factored yet."
Kevin Kuhlman, chief lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent
Business, the nation's largest small business trade group, said his group is
monitoring how the new bill's $350 billion in small business loans is being
administered. For the next measure, he said his group is watching whether
additional money is needed and if changes are needed in how the money is
Michael Strain, director of economic studies at the conservative American
Enterprise Institute, said the next bill could be used to revisit the $2.2
trillion measure if some programs have problems. He said there could be a need
for spending another $500 billion or more, or for significantly less support.
"There are all kinds of questions about what the world will look like in
June," Strain said.