Senate Leaves for Memorial Day Break Without Deal On New Relief Bill

May 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON – The Senate has left town for its annual Memorial Day recess with no agreement in sight on a fourth coronavirus economic relief bill and a schedule that suggests a new stimulus won’t be done until July.

Last week, the House passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act, which includes another round of stimulus payments and would also increase unemployment aid and boost food stamps and small business emergency grants to those left reeling by the ongoing pandemic.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared the bill “dead on arrival” due to its inclusion of several non-coronavirus related measures, and several Republicans in the chamber are pushing back on its impact on the national debt.

In a tweet on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Senate’s refusal to act on the Heroes Act was “a clear act of political retribution designed to help the president keep his job.”

“The Senate must stop playing along with the President’s dangerous tactics [and] take steps to save lives and livelihoods,” she said.

Though McConnell originally suggested he would prefer waiting to see if past relief bills worked before doing another, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others in the administration have been very public this week with assertions that a new economic bill may be absolutely necessary.

During a White House meeting on Wednesday, McConnell seemed to come around, though he reportedly stressed to President Trump that the next relief will be far less costly and more coronavirus-focused than the House bill.

His price tag for the entire package, including an expected series of modification of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, is said to be $1 trillion.

McConnell reportedly told Trump the bill needs to be tailored toward short-term economic relief and create incentives for people to get back to work.

Several senators said Thursday that they don’t expect negotiations on the new package to begin before the third week of June.

Before then, the Senate will work on the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill and is expected to take up a bipartisan measure that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and establish a fund for maintenance of national parks and other public lands.

The latter was seen as a gift to Sen. Cory Gardner, who had shocked many of his colleagues earlier this week when he threatened to hold up the Senate recess.

In a tweet, he said he found it “unfathomable” that the chamber would go on a 10-day recess before considering additional coronavirus aid measures.

“Thanks to the hard work of Sens. Cory Gardner and Steve Daines, we’ll be able to take up their bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act in the next work period,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last Thursday afternoon.

In a written statement afterwards, Gardner nevertheless tied his bill to coronavirus relief.

“Our mountain towns were hit hard by COVID-19. The ski season ended early, restaurants closed, and hotels emptied. Now is the time to pass this bill that will provide billions of dollars in funding for new jobs across Colorado and the country while protecting our public lands,” he said.

McConnell has also scheduled votes to confirm more of President Donald Trump’s judicial and administrative nominees.

These include John Leonard Badalamenti to be a federal judge in Florida; Victor Mercado to be an assistant secretary of Defense; Brian Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery at the Treasury Department; James Anderson to be a deputy undersecretary of Defense; and Drew Tipton to be a federal judge in. Texas

McConnell locked in a schedule for brief pro forma sessions with no planned business until June 1. The Senate will gavel in and out on Friday, and then again twice next week.

In the meantime, the House is scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday.

In a letter distributed to House Democrats Friday afternoon, Pelosi said Congress would return to session under the careful, science-based guidance of the Office of the Attending Physician and Sergeant-At-Arms to ensure the health and safety of members and staff. 

“As we fight to defeat the coronavirus and open our economy, we must apply that same careful, science-based guidance to all,” she said.

Pelosi reminded her members that The Heroes Act does just that by requiring OSHA to issue an enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard within seven days. That standard will require employers to develop and enact a comprehensive plan to protect their workers, based on CDC and other expert guidance.

The bill also requires OSHA to issue a permanent and enforceable infectious disease standard within 24 hours to require workplaces to develop and implement infection control plans, based on CDC expertise.

[It] further protects workers by banning retaliation from their employers if they report infection control problems in the workplace or if they bring their own more effective respirators to work.

 “Our essential workers — health care, first responders, teachers, postal, transit, sanitation, food and others — risk their lives each day on the frontlines and fear endangering their children and families when they return home from the job,” Pelosi wrote.

“We cannot accept leaving workers in harm’s way, forcing them to sacrifice their health and that of their families, while potentially risking further outbreaks of this pandemic that will prolong this crisis,” she said, imploring members to “make your U.S. Senators aware of the life-saving investment that The Heroes Act makes in protecting America’s workers.”

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