The Next Pandemic Relief Bill May Delay Lawmakers’ August Recess

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020

Republican lawmakers are in the process of drafting their next pandemic relief package which they have indicated will stay within the $1 trillion range as compared to the Democrat’s current relief package, which is close to $3 trillion.

While leaders from both parties have said they want funding for testing and treatment for COVID-19 and funding for schools to be included in the next package, unemployment relief, stimulus checks, hazard pay for essential workers, and liability insurance are some of the areas that are not yet agreed upon.

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that Republicans are not willing to compromise on liability protections for hospitals, schools, and businesses to help shield them from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked recently if she supports the Republican push for liability protection by CNN.

“Well, what does he mean by that?  Does he mean essential workers have to go to work, if they don’t, they lose their Unemployment Insurance, and if they get sick there, they have no recourse?  I think a better path would be for them to join us in our OSHA—a strong OSHA provision that is in The Heroes Act,” she said. “It’s not just about workers, though.  It’s about customers and clients and other people who have exposure to any particular workplace.”

The OSHA provision, Speaker Pelosi referenced, is the law Congress created to ensure employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers but it does not protect employers from lawsuits.

The Democrat controlled House passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act in May which did not make it to the Republican-controlled Senate for a vote. The Democrat Bill includes $300 billion for front-line workers to receive benefits during the pandemic and close to $200 billion for housing assistance.

“Tomorrow, it will be two months since we passed The Heroes Act with putting money in the pockets of the American people, the Unemployment Insurance, and the direct payments.  You talked about the moratorium on evictions ending now.  We have over—almost $200 billion in there, $100 billion to help renters, and $75 billion to help people meet their mortgage payments as well as other for people who are homeless and rural housing specific initiatives,” said Pelosi.

While Democrats want to include $200 billion to assist renters/homeowners with housing costs and continuing to pay unemployment benefits, Republicans have come out specifically against the unemployment bonus.

Leader, Mitch McConnell said earlier this year that he would not continue the $600 per week increase in unemployment in the next bill. When it comes to unemployment benefits “you can assume that it will be no more than 100 percent” of a worker’s wages before they were laid off.

McConnell added that the bonus included in the March bill was a “mistake.” “I think basic unemployment insurance is extremely important.”

An alternative to the $600 bonus was proposed by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), in which the government would provide $450 weekly to laid-off Americans returning to work, in addition to their wages.

“We’ve got to reward individuals for coming back to work,” Larry Kudlow the Director of the United States National Economic Council told Fox News recently. “There will be some kind of re-employment bonus. We’re not going to go to the $600, that’s a disincentive to work.”

While McConnell has indicated support for another round of stimulus checks, he said there will likely be a lower-income ceiling of $40,000 per year in order to receive that benefit.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle have pledged to reach a deal with the next bill before Congress sets off for recess in August.

Pelosi said she would consider postponing recess for Congress to get the next relief package done, “Oh, we absolutely have to.  We also have to come to an agreement,” she said.

Both sides have indicated that funding for testing and treatment is on their agenda.

Democrats have included $75 billion for testing and treatment. “So, in our plan, rather than trusting the Administration to use the funds the way you would expect them to, to rely on science to do, in our bill we have a very clear directive, a strategy for testing, tracing, treatment and, again, all of this: sanitation, the distancing, the mask-wearing, et cetera,” Pelosi said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, also said he is advocating for testing and treatment funding in the next relief package.

“I’d be in favor of two things one is anything that we can do to accelerate test treatments and vaccine spending a trillion dollars isn’t the problem, this isn’t an economic problem this is a disease problem,” Alexander said.

Sen. Alexander said during a June interview that an estimated $70 billion is needed to open public schools including colleges.

“What we should do now is make sure that our schools are, 130,000 of them, public and private and our colleges, about 6000 of those, that they have the money they need to open safely in the fall.”  He added that getting back to normalcy will require schools to reopen.

McConnell told a local Kentucky newspaper recently that he will prioritize kids returning to school. The Senator said, “America will not look anywhere close to normal unless kids are back in schools.”

While Democrat leaders have already included $100 billion for local and state governments to bolster schools, The Hill reported that several influential labor unions and progressive groups including the American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, MoveOn, United We Dream, and Greenpeace in a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Tuesday, demanded that the next relief bill include at least $1 trillion in state and local aid, with $100 billion for public schools.

McConnell has indicated that the GOP will be unveiling their plan next week and from there will begin negotiations with Democrats to try to pass a relief bill before Congress adjourns for August recess.