Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY,
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that Congress will decide whether to pass a “final” coronavirus relief package in the coming weeks.
“We’re taking a careful look at a fourth and final bill,” the Republican said in his home state of Kentucky. “You could anticipate the decision being made on whether to go forward in about a month. And it will be narrowly crafted, designed to help us where we are a month from now, not where we were three months ago.”
Congress has split over how next to address economic and health care crises created by the pandemic. As tens of millions of people file for unemployment insurance and state and local governments stare down budget shortfalls, House Democrats passed a sprawling $3 trillion stimulus bill this month. McConnell, meanwhile, has stressed he wants to see how efforts to reopen businesses in most of the country affect the economy and job market before he would pass more legislation.
Democrats, who have pushed for measures including another round of direct payments of up to $1,200 and an extension of an enhanced federal unemployment benefit, have argued the need for people to cover vital expenses requires more immediate action.
“We need a pause? Tell that to the virus,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “Is the virus taking a pause? Is hunger in America taking a pause?”
In a separate letter to colleagues Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Senate to take more action to address the pandemic when it returns next week. He called on Republicans to “join Democrats at the negotiating table, immediately.”
Schumer also said Senate Democrats would try to pass a House-approved bill that aims to give small business owners more flexibility in how they spend money loaned as part of a coronavirus aid program.
McConnell outlined a set of conditions for the next coronavirus package. He said it “will be written in the Senate” and “supported by” the Trump administration, with input from Democrats — whose support it will need to pass even the GOP-held Senate.
He again stressed he will not support a plan that does not include a measure to shield doctors and businesses from certain lawsuits as the economy reopens. Democrats have opposed sweeping liability protections.
McConnell also said Congress would “help those who are still unemployed.” But he criticized the $600 per week federal benefit set to expire after July, which has in certain cases led to beneficiaries receiving more money than they would have from their previous paychecks.
The GOP Senate leader, who has opposed efforts to send more relief to states and municipalities, said he would “take a look” at giving them more funding. He added that “there may be additional assistance needed for small businesses, for health care.”
McConnell’s comments and a House schedule released Friday afternoon indicate another relief bill likely will not become law for weeks. A summer calendar sent by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer‘s office does not list votes until June 30, though the Maryland Democrat has noted representatives could return to Washington sooner if the Senate approves coronavirus-related legislation.
“I expect, then, that the House will be in session at some point in June, once the Senate does act, for further Floor action on this critical issue,” he wrote in a letter to representatives, noting that he would give them 72 hours’ notice before they come back to the Capitol.
The U.S. this week surpassed 100,000 deaths from the pandemic. More than 40 million people have now filed unemployment insurance claims during the crisis, though the number of people collecting benefits for at least two weeks in a row fell to about 21 million.