Chamber of Commerce expects next coronavirus relief bill by July 4

Chamber of Commerce expects next coronavirus relief bill by July 4
© Greg Nash

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the country’s biggest business lobbying groups, said that it expects Congress will be able to wrap up work on its next coronavirus relief bill by Independence Day.

“We ought to be able to get a phase four bill done by the 4th of July,” Chamber Executive Vice President Neil Bradley said in a briefing with reporters.

The timing for negotiating and passing a new coronavirus relief bill — and whether it would even happen — has been hotly debated.

Earlier this week, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett suggested a new bill may not be necessary.

"If the economy continues the momentum that we're beginning to see over the last couple of weeks of data, then I think one might conclude that the stimulus that we've already passed is enough," he said, referring to the roughly $3.6 trillion in emergency relief and public health funding Congress approved in four bills through March.

But that view seems to be fading. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFive questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE told The Hill there was a "strong likelihood" another bill would be necessary.

The Democratic-controlled House has already approved a new $3 trillion stimulus bill that passed largely along party lines on Friday, but the Republican-controlled Senate has pushed back on key provisions.

On Thursday, the Chamber laid out four top priorities for the next bill, which largely hew to markers set down by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies MORE (R-Ky.).

“These policies are going to be particularly important in determining what kind of economic recovery we have,” Bradley said.

Topping the list is some form of liability protection for businesses to ensure that workers cannot sue them over COVID-19-related liabilities.

McConnell has said the inclusion of such a provision was a “red line” for the next bill, arguing that businesses needed confidence that they wouldn’t get sued as they attempted to reopen in an uncertain health environment.

Democrats said that employees need recourse in the event that their employers fail to provide adequate protections against a potentially lethal, virulent disease that has already killed more than 90,000 people in the U.S.

Bradley said he favored guidance from Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but also warned against guidance being too rigid.

The Chamber also called for additional funds to help businesses ride out the storm, aiming to keep companies afloat until the worst of the crisis has passed.

“What we don’t want to see is a bridge that abruptly stops halfway across the canyon,” he said.

Programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program have provided forgivable loans to small businesses to keep them afloat even if they had to temporarily shut down.

A third priority would be programs to help train and certify workers who lost their jobs permanently to help pave the way for better jobs down the line, an approach Bradley said was more favorable than sending all the newly unemployed to community college or keeping them on unemployment benefits.

He came out strongly against the Democratic priority of keeping an additional $600 of weekly unemployment insurance in place beyond July. That program, he said, created warped incentives for some workers by offering them higher income for staying out of the job market.

But the Chamber, he said, was open to supporting a compromise that might see those extra benefits parlayed into an incentive for taking a new job, or capping the benefits at 100 percent of their previous salary.

Finally, the Chamber said that it was important to help funnel cash to state and local governments that had to increase spending to fight the virus and faced massive revenue shortages due to plummeting sales and gas tax revenues.

But the approach, Bradley said, would need to be targeted to ensure that funds were not distributed willy-nilly, and that they aligned accurately with states’ specific needs.

“We will be encouraging Congress to take a much more detailed look at this,” he said, again echoing comments from McConnell.

The Democratic bill included $1 trillion for state and local governments, while a report from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank estimated that states would need an additional $600 billion to help make up a $765 billion shortfall.