U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following a closed Senate Republican policy lunch meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss the response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 19, 2020.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
The Kentucky Republican said a measure to lift the U.S. economy would have a more narrow scope than the $3 trillion package House Democrats approved earlier this month. He said states’ progress in restarting their economies in the coming weeks will help to inform what Congress does. McConnell noted that “we need to make sure we have unemployment insurance properly funded for as long as we need,” as tens of millions of people lose paychecks.
“So, in the next few weeks, we’ll determine whether there is yet another bill,” he told reporters Tuesday in his home state.
Congress has passed four bills to respond to the crisis, most recently approving a plan to replenish a small business aid program about a month ago. Many lawmakers and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell have argued Washington should take more steps to jolt the economy as the unemployment rate stood at 14.7% in April and pockets of the country remain under restrictions to protect public health.
While Democrats have pushed for more legislation for weeks, the GOP has started to warm to another round of stimulus in recent days. President Donald Trump and his top advisors signaled their support for another rescue bill last week. The president mentioned the possibility of a second direct payment to individuals — which McConnell did not address Tuesday.
The Senate Republican leader again insisted he would push for liability protections for doctors and businesses as the economy reopened. Democrats have been uneasy about creating shields from lawsuits.
McConnell also said he would want additional relief for state and local governments to be tailored only to increased expenses and revenue lost due to the coronavirus outbreak. Democrats included nearly $1 trillion for cash-strapped states and municipalities in their bill as leaders from both parties ask for more money.
It is unclear for how long and at what level McConnell would want to fund federal unemployment insurance benefits. Last week, the senator said the next congressional bill would not extend the $600 per week sum the U.S. government added to what recipients normally get from states. The extra federal benefit is set to expire at the end of July.
The Democratic bill passed earlier this month would extend it through January.
The House aims to pass a limited bill this week to give small businesses more flexibility in how they can spend government aid money while getting loans forgiven.
Most of the country has at least started the process of reopening businesses after coronavirus lockdowns. Republicans have generally supported restarting the economy earlier than Democrats have.
Covid-19 cases in the United States now number more than 1.66 million, while the disease has killed more than 98,000 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.