As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maintains that the congressional body will, in fact, return on May 4, lawmakers have begun publicly feuding over the details of their first order of business: the next coronavirus relief package.
McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing a myriad of conflicting interests as both Democratic and Republican senators have started airing out what they want to see included in the second Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security Act bill.
Republicans like Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) appear more willing to support an increase in spending for issues supported by Democrats.
Cassidy unveiled a proposal earlier this month with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to create a $500 billion fund for state and local governments. The $500 billion price tag matches the amount requested by Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.), chairman of the National Governors Association, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the vice chairman.
McConnell, however, disagrees, suggesting instead last week that state governments file for bankruptcy if they cannot handle their own coronavirus-caused financial burdens.
The Kentucky Republican also has no appetite for infrastructure spending to be included in the phase four deal.
Speaking to Fox News Tuesday, the Senate’s top Republican said that while he was interested in passing an infrastructure package at some point, it was “unrelated” to the immediate needs of Americans in the wake of the pandemic.
“We have an equal interest in doing an infrastructure bill. We don’t have an equal interest in borrowing money from future generations to pay for it. In other words, it’s unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of Senate GOP leadership, expressed interest in potentially supporting infrastructure spending in the next relief package.
“The president has talked about some tax incentives he would like to see [in the next bill], I think that makes sense. I also think some infrastructure spending is appropriate but as we begin to reopen, it’s the time to actually help stimulate the economy. That’s what the next package ought to focus on,” Portman said during an interview last week with Fox Business.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) went as far as to say on the Senate floor on Tuesday that CARES 2, as the bill is called, should include significant infrastructure spending. Sullivan argued that doing so would set the groundwork for restarting the economy.
Other GOP senators, however, appear to be siding with McConnell, with most offering proposals less focused on spending as much as accountability.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the loans already given out haven’t “been limited to those who truly need them,” arguing that limiting loan forgiveness under the PPP would be the right move. Johnson, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, added that he believes loans should not be forgiven if a business’ taxable 2020 income was greater than its 2019 income.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a staunch China critic, wants the phase four legislation to not be solely focused on a Democrat-backed area such as funding for state and local governments.
The Arkansas Republican told Hugh Hewitt on his talk radio program Tuesday that he hoped his proposal to “bring pharmaceutical manufacturing back from China” would be included in the next bill.
“I think you’ll see other measures designed to counteract China and also reduce our dependence on China in any future legislation,” he said.
The Trump administration and other world leaders have been highly critical of China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, even suggesting Communist Party in Beijing face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible.”
Democratic leadership, meanwhile, show no signs of slowing down their push to have aid to state and local governments, infrastructure spending and voting-by-mail funds included in the phase four bill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), speaking to Democratic senators on a conference call last week, said that “there will be a phase four bill,” according to The Hill.
Schumer, who has been negotiating on behalf of Senate Democrats with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, told his Congressional colleagues that the party would continue to push for other priorities to be included in the package.
Some of those priorities include federal assistance for people having trouble paying rent, funds for election reform, hazard pay for essential workers and funding for the US Postal Service.
Speaking to PBS Tuesday, the top Senate Democrat argued that he “wouldn’t take anything off the table,” in terms of what he wants included in the bill.
“On infrastructure, we have a huge economic hole. We have to get out of it. I wouldn’t take anything off the table. I don’t know, you know, the size of infrastructure or how — what type of infrastructure. I think it should be green,” he said.
“But [for McConnell] to just take it off the table, when the economy is hurting and infrastructure has been a time-tested way to get people back to work and get the economy going again, makes no sense.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she wants $4 billion for states to transition to voting-by-mail, especially if Americans are unable to safely go to a polling place by the November general election.
The last bill allocated $400 million to the cause.
For McConnell, however, that spending is not feasible.
“I think it’s also time to begin to think about the amount of debt we’re adding to our country and the future impact of that. Let’s weigh this very carefully, because the future of our country in terms of the amount of debt that we’re adding up is a matter of genuine concern,” he said last week.
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