The House has yet to clear the massive coronavirus relief package passed by the Senate late Wednesday, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already looking ahead to “Phase 4” — even as Republicans play down the need for more assistance.
At her weekly press conference on Thursday, Pelosi predicted a “strong bipartisan vote” when the House takes up the $2 trillion rescue package on Friday. The legislation — the biggest of its kind in history — aims to provide relief to workers, small businesses and massive industries in order to stave off economic collapse because of the coronavirus.
But even before President Donald Trump’s signature is on the bill, Pelosi is pivoting to the next relief measure and what Democrats would like to see in it.
“The bill that was passed in the Senate last night and that we will take up tomorrow is about mitigation,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “There’s so many things we didn’t get in any of these bills yet in the way that we need to.”
Some of the things Democrats are pushing for include additional funding for state and local governments to address the rapidly spreading virus; expanding the pool of people who qualify for family and medical leave; more federal dollars for food aid; stronger worker protections for first responders; funding to offset coronavirus treatment costs; and stabilizing pensions.
Pelosi also said she doesn’t think “we’ve seen the end of direct payments” and even raised the idea to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday of transmitting the first round electronically.
But the House’s top Republican has downplayed the need for additional relief measures at this time, pouring cold water on Pelosi’s aspirations for a fourth coronavirus package — at least for now.
“We have now just passed what would be the third bill. Let's let this work. Let's let this work inside America,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Fox News Thursday morning. “We have now given the resources to make and solve this problem. We don't need to be crafting another bill right now. Let's let these $2 trillion go to work for us, plus the $8 billion ahead of time and the billions of dollars we just passed on the second bill."
Pelosi initially said she would be taking the lead on drafting the fourth tranche of legislation before telling reporters she actually thinks it should be a “four corners” negotiation, meaning she, McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hammer out a deal.
Schumer has also signaled this week that additional aid will be needed, saying, “We should be willing, able to come back in a bipartisan way and do more if we need it, and I believe we'll probably have to do that, one way or another.”
Still the timeline is unclear for when the fourth bill will be complete or even for when lawmakers will return to the Capitol. The Senate is out until at least April 20 — unless an emergency brings senators back to Washington — and the House is also planning to recess for several weeks after the Friday vote.
Part of both Pelosi’s and McCarthy’s stances is member management. For Pelosi, she wants to assure her caucus that there will be more chances to include Democratic priorities that didn’t make it into the first three bills. And for McCarthy, he needs to calm jittery conservative hard-liners who are wary of big government spending and might have objections to allowing the Senate package to pass by voice vote.
McConnell, meanwhile, has been noncommittal about their next legislative steps, instead focusing his energy on getting the $2 trillion economic rescue package over the finish line first.
“The real problem here is it’s on the health side and we’re all hoping that we’re going to begin to bend the curve here in the next few weeks. So I don’t have an announcement to make about the future yet,” McConnell said in an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday. “We’re hoping and praying that we’re going to begin to get a handle on this pandemic.”
The massive relief package expected to clear the House Friday is the third in a wave of bills Congress has quickly mobilized to pass as the coronavirus spreads across the U.S., infecting thousands and shutting down massive sectors of the economy.
Congress passed a bill with $8.3 billion in emergency funding in early March and the Senate followed that by clearing the House’s “Phase 2” bill last week, which greatly expanded federal safety programs to address the virus.
Democrats and some Republicans have said a fourth piece of legislation — and maybe more — is needed to ensure the U.S. doesn’t enter into a full-blown depression. Just on Thursday, unemployment claims reached a record high, skyrocketing to 3.3 million according to the Labor Department.
“In this case, it’s about public sentiment. People say, ‘Oh, why do we need another bill?’” Pelosi said. “These are needs that people have. ... this is all about the coronavirus. It’s not about anything else.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.