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Congressional leaders have pushed into May their scheduled return to Washington, continuing work from their home states on recovery efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic and myriad other policy updates.
“As senators continue working together from our home states, we must stay totally focused on fighting this pandemic and strengthening our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said April 14. “The coronavirus does not take days off, and the United States Senate must not either, wherever we are.”
McConnell and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress will not gavel in prior to May 4. Lawmakers were expected to return to Capitol Hill on April 20.
McConnell noted that guidance from health officials influenced his decision, and he indicated members would be notified at least 24 hours prior to an update in the schedule.
As several metropolitan regions continue to grapple with the pandemic, it is unclear when Congress will proceed with another massive emergency aid package, and whether transportation will be included. Legislative next steps have stalled due to partisan differences.
Democratic leaders point to the potential for adding funding for hospitals and state agencies tasked with medical care. Specifically, they have proposed $150 billion for state and municipal assistance, and $100 billion in aid for hospitals. A point of contention has been the solvency of the Paycheck Protection Program, which is meant to preserve the small-business workforce during the health crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized her caucus intends to enhance access to the loans. As she put it, “Democrats know that in order for the Paycheck Protection Program to succeed, it must work for everyone.”
McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California have called for prioritizing the loan program, which they explained is projected to be depleted absent an immediate injection of funds.
“It has been stunning to watch our Democratic colleagues treat emergency funding for Americans’ paychecks like a Republican priority which they need to be goaded into supporting,” the Republican leaders said jointly April 15. “Funding a bipartisan program should not be a partisan issue. The notion that crucial help for working people is not appealing enough to Democrats without other additions sends a strange message about their priorities.”
McConnell and McCarthy added, “The cost of continued Democratic obstruction will be pink slips and shuttered businesses.”
Meanwhile, concerns about the surface transportation system have yet to appear on Congress’ radar despite Trump’s insistence to fund infrastructure projects via an economic relief package.
“The president has talked about potentially adding infrastructure and other things,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on April 13. “We think there is a likelihood we will need more money, and we will — we will sit down and try to get a bipartisan bill.”
Congressional Democratic leaders insist infrastructure policy remains a priority after retreating from an endorsement this month of the president’s vision for massive infrastructure funding.
“We can build a more resilient economy with robust investments in smart, safe infrastructure, including bringing clean water and the promise of high-speed broadband to every American community,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said April 3.
The economic disruptions resulting from the pandemic motivated Congress to advance to the president’s desk a trio of bills totaling more than $2 trillion. Enacted into law, the packages provide aid for medical services, myriad small businesses and low-income families. Aid for airlines, transit systems and Amtrak also was approved.
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