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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 
bear fruit.

   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 tweeted.

   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 
elections.

   "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 
said. 

   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 
pushing ideas.

   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 
store employees. 

   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 
distributed.

   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. 


(KR)

 
 
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