Senate Discussions Underway on ‘Crucial’ Coronavirus Legislation: McConnell

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
March 16, 2020Updated: March 16, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on March 15 that the Senate will convene Monday to continue discussions on “crucial legislation” beyond the coronavirus relief package that cleared the House early Saturday.

In a statement Sunday, McConnell said the Senate still needs to receive the final version of the House’s coronavirus legislation, and that he had discussed “the next steps” of the legislation at length with a number of GOP committee chairmen over the weekend.

“It is clear that confronting this virus will take boldness, bipartisanship, and a comprehensive approach,” McConnell said. “Discussions are already underway on these key pillars. The Senate is eager to work with the administration and the House to deliver the solutions our nation deserves.”

The Senate Majority Leader said measures being discussed include those which would directly help Americans overcome “financial challenges” in the coming weeks and months, measures to secure the nation’s economy, and steps to prepare the U.S. healthcare system and support medical professionals.

His comments came after the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from the pandemic.

The multi-billion dollar bill was passed by a largely bipartisan vote of 363 to 40 by the Democratic-controlled House. President Donald Trump said he supported the package, raising the likelihood that it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate this week.

The 110-page bill is the product of extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s point person on the issue. Mnuchin has pressed for tax cuts, while Pelosi had pushed to expand safety-net spending. It does not include the $1 trillion payroll tax cut that Trump had called for.

The bill would provide two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus. Businesses would get a tax credit to help cover the expense. Workers would also be able to take up to three months of unpaid leave if they are quarantined or need to take care of sick family members.

It would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns, including home-bound seniors and low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are shuttered.

It would bolster unemployment aid and the “food stamps” program that helps 34 million low-income people buy groceries.

Significantly, it would suspend a new Trump administration restriction, due to kick in on April 1, that would cut off food stamp benefits for 700,000 childless adults who are not working.

Federal support for Medicaid would also be increased, giving states a cushion to fund the low-income health insurance program that Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.

“This new disease is challenging our great nation in unfamiliar ways. But we have overcome far greater challenges before,” McConnell said. “Those of us in elected office—at all levels—must continue to put partisanship aside and focus on our common work to serve the common good.”

McConnell in his statement sought to assure that Senators on both sides are working carefully to review the details of the bill.

They “are eager to act swiftly to help American workers, families, and small businesses navigate this challenging time,” McConnell said.

“Senate Republicans feel strongly that this bill must only be the beginning of Congress’s efforts to support our nation’s economy and stand with American families,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.