WASHINGTON – Now that Congress has passed the largest rescue package in American history to address the coronavirus pandemic, is there more to come?
That depends on whom you ask.
“We know that this cannot be our final bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the House floor Friday shortly before lawmakers approved the nearly $2 trillion package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a different take.
“Well, we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” the Kentucky Republican told Fox News when asked Thursday if there will be another funding phase.
Both chambers are scheduled to be out for the first half of April. But that’s not an impediment. McConnell said he will call senators back if there’s a need to act.
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The potential impasse is that Democrats already have a list of additional issues they say need to be addressed while Republicans want to first see the effects of the three packages already approved, particularly the latest, massive bill President Donald Trump signed Friday.
“I would hope anybody that’s talking about a phase four would pause right now. We have just passed three bills,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News Friday afternoon. “Let’s make sure this is actually working.”
The latest stimulus package will provide $1,200 checks to many Americans – and more for families – while making available hundreds of billions of dollars for companies to maintain payroll through the crisis. It significantly expands the nation’s unemployment safety net and it directs a huge infusion of cash to states and to hospitals and other medical facilities on the frontline fighting the pandemic.
Pelosi, however, said the package had glaring omissions that must be rectified, and that more needs will arise in the coming weeks. Those include:
- Expanding which workers qualify for unpaid, job-protected leave to care for themselves or a family member under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- Stronger safety protections for health care workers.
- Free health care services for coronavirus patients.
- Increased food stamp benefits.
- Pension protections.
- More funding for state and local governments.
- More funding for hospitals and health centers.
Pelosi also pointed out that the House’s initial version of the rescue package had bigger stimulus checks for individuals than were in the final bill.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the end of direct payments,” she told reporters Thursday.
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has criticized the package as falling far short of what his hard-hit state needs.
“It would really be terrible for the state of New York,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “This doesn’t do it.”
Asked about such complaints from governors, Pelosi said more help will come as Congress moves from addressing emergency needs to a “recovery phase.”
“Next we will move to recovery,” she said again on the House floor Friday, “and hopefully that will be soon.”
Some Democrats want to increase the amount of election funding states would receive, along with a requirement that they allow citizens to vote-by-mail or through another remote method this fall.
“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health & their right to vote,” tweeted Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose husband is recovering from COVID-19.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said it’s wrong that many workers still won’t qualify for paid sick leave or paid family leave.
“It’s about supporting people who are being required to stay home,” she said. “We have to keep pushing on this.”
Pelosi said House committees will continue to work – often remotely – on outstanding issues.
Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, the Democratic head of the House panel that oversees taxes, said the fourth response package needs to do more for individuals, including expanding tax credits for families with children and help for low-income workers.
But anything on the Democrats’ wish list will have to be negotiated with the GOP-controlled Senate and bipartisan tensions remain despite lawmakers’ coming together to pass such a huge amount of spending in a short period of time.
Greg Walden, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has broad jurisdiction over major issues like health insurance, drug development and tourism, said it’s too soon to say what could be in another package.
“Let’s see where we are 30 days from now,” Walden said on Bloomberg TV Thursday. He noted that lawmakers will still be working on the regular annual funding bills for the federal government.
Pelosi said lawmakers have to be on call for “what we need, when we need it .”
“And we don’t know what that might be,” she said Thursday. “But whatever it is, we’ll be ready.”
Contributing: Ledyard King and Todd Spangler, USA TODAY Network.
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