Tuesday, September 22
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Congress nowhere close to a coronavirus deal as unemployment spikes

Senate Republicans have no plans to unveil an alternative to the massive relief bill passed by House Democrats.

Americans hoping for the next round of coronavirus relief will probably be waiting for weeks — if not much longer

Though House Democrats on Friday passed a sweeping, $3 trillion stimulus bill built around aid for local governments and a fresh batch of direct payments to the public, the Republican Senate majority has no immediate plans to produce an alternative. Instead, senators are expected to consider a handful of lifetime judicial appointments this week and then head home for the Memorial Day recess.

There’s basically zero bipartisan talk among congressional leaders right now in Washington about what to do next. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have no plans to hash out their differences, primarily because they don’t even agree on whether a bill is needed immediately. President Donald Trump is noncommittal.

While McConnell and many of his members have conceded that another bill is likely at some point, the Kentucky Republicansays he doesn’t yet feel the “urgency” to spend more money after Congress has delivered nearly $3 trillion in aid already. Senate Republicans see the nextexhaustion of the Paycheck Protection Program, perhaps in late May or June, as a potential impetus for putting forward their own vision.

“In terms of what the timing would look like, I suspect that doesn’t happen until sometime after Memorial Day,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

Many on Capitol Hill say that a fifth coronavirus response measure is inevitable given an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent and no sign of an economic recovery. But at the moment, it’s hard to see how one would come together.

Trump is still pushing a payroll tax cut that Democrats and many Republicans dislike. The GOP is internally divided over how much to help states and localities. And progressives say Democratic leaders should go even bigger than the ibill just passed the House.

“I’d put the chance of another bill right now at way less than 50 percent for the foreseeable future. I mean I hear all this talk that, ‘Well, we’ll get back together and something will get worked out in June,’” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

“I do think we need to be working on an alternative to the House’s $3 trillion wish list bill.”

 Sen. Susan Collins

He said he and his colleagues are frustrated by two months of top-down legislating by congressional leaders and take-it-or-leave-it propositions: “People have had enough … the cattle are starting to say ‘no.’”

McConnell has savaged Pelosi’s bill but repeatedly declined to give a timeline on when the next coronavirus legislation will be considered by the Senate. In the meantime, Democrats will continue to cast Republicans as dragging their feet amid an unprecedented health and economic crisis.

“The pressure will grow,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

There are some signs of activity. McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are working on legislation that would exempt some businesses and employees from liability during the coronavirus pandemic — which McConnell deems a must-have in any relief bill. But Cornyn said it might be several weeks before the proposal is completed. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are also collaborating on language to give states and cities more money, but that’s not done yet, either.

With little chance of an immediate infusion of cash for state and local governments, Kennedy is working on a smaller piece of legislation that would give states more flexibility to spend money already doled out by Congress. But it’s opposed by some Republicans, led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

Kennedy is trying to lobby Trump to support it but hasn’t yet hit paydirt. Trump said on Friday that another relief measure “could happen, but it will happen in the right way.”

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