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Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after $2 trillion bill

Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after $2 trillion bill
© Bonnie Cash

Lawmakers are quickly shifting their attention to a “phase four” coronavirus bill as the economic, health and social effects of the pandemic unfold across the U.S.

Congress is set to pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus package — the largest in the nation’s history — as soon as Friday as lawmakers try to ward off a deep recession sparked by the outbreak.

But leadership and rank-and-file members in both chambers argue that even with the wide-reaching spending package, which includes help for individuals, small businesses and hard-hit industries, more legislation will be needed.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Biden to host Sinema for meeting on infrastructure proposal MORE (D-N.Y.) said the “odds are high” Congress will need to do more.

“I think, the odds are, we will need new legislation, more legislation. First, we don't know the extent of the crisis in terms of the magnitude, so that could rise. But there are going to be problems that we don't realize now that we are going to have to grapple with,” Schumer said.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Job openings jump to record high of 8.1 million | Wyden opposes gas tax hike | Airlines feel fuel crunch Pelosi: House Democrats want to make child tax credit expansion permanent Pelosi announces change to House floor mask rules MORE (D-Calif.) added “we have some other things we want to do” and “there are so many things that we didn't get in any of these bills yet, in the way that we need to.”

Lawmakers have already written three coronavirus response bills: The first was $8.3 billion, the second was $104 billion and the latest is estimated to be $2.2 trillion, though there has not been an official estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But leaders in both parties view the legislation that passed the Senate late Wednesday, and is expected to pass the House on Friday, as an attempt to provide a buffer that prevents the health care crisis and financial markets from worsening, not a bill that will spark an immediate economic recovery.

“This is not even a stimulus package — it is emergency relief. Emergency relief, that’s what this is,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Republican governor of Arkansas says 'Trump is dividing our party' MORE (R-Ky.) said ahead of the Senate vote.

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Pelosi added that the massive bill was focused on “mitigation.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had cratered in recent weeks, pared back some of its losses Thursday by climbing to 22,523 after a low of 18,591 earlier in the crisis.

But there are signs of a deeper financial and health care crises on the horizon: Weekly unemployment claims soared to 3.3 million, according to government figures released Thursday, underscoring the pandemic’s devastating impact on the economy.

On top of that, New York hospitals say they are overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, and U.S. health officials are warning that similar local outbreaks could spread across the country.

How a fourth bill will come together, and what will be included in it, is still up for debate.

Both the House and Senate are out of town, likely slowing the prospects for a bipartisan deal. The return date for the House is unclear, while the Senate is set to return April 20.

McConnell appeared to tip his hand to potential next legislative steps by keeping the door open to calling the Senate back earlier.

“The Senate is going to nimble. ... If circumstances require the Senate to return for a vote sooner than April 20, we will provide at least 24 hours notice,” he said. “Let's stay connected and continue to collaborate on the best ways to keep helping our states and our country through this pandemic.” 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Senate poised for all-day brawl over sweeping elections bill MORE (R-Mo.) added that he expected key lawmakers would use the break to discuss and “get ready for whatever is phase four.”

But what ends up in any additional legislation will likely be determined by something that’s out of Congress’s control: the virus itself.

“I think it will be ongoing responses to the crisis. ... That’s really what's driving everything around here,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneBiden-McConnell cold war unlikely to end at White House Top female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, added that unless the spread and impact of the virus quickly diminishes, more legislation is likely to be needed.

“Everybody would hope it's enough, but for it to be enough that means the whole epidemic stops in a relatively short time,” he told reporters. “I think everyone is going on the assumption that we're going to have to do more, because this will not stop.”

Who would take the lead on drafting a fourth bill is also uncertain. The first two measures were spearheaded by the House and Trump administration, particularly Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, wrote their own rescue package for the third bill before opening up negotiations with Democrats.

Pelosi outlined a list of items House Democrats want in additional legislation, including stronger worker protections, more funding for state and local governments, additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding, additional cash payments and free treatment for those who test positive.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE (R-Calif.) indicated Thursday that Congress first needs to allow time for the first three bills to be implemented, and to see their effect, before deciding on next steps.

“If something is needed in the future, let's make that decision, but let's not make that decision without allowing these bills to be put into the economy,” he told reporters.

White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland, asked if they’ve had discussions on a next phase, noted that they had largely been focused on finalizing the stimulus package but could continue discussions within the administration and with Congress.

“We know that there will be additional unfolding challenges for the economy, for families, for markets,” Ueland said. “We are happy to evaluate those challenges and see what if anything would be necessary from the legislative standpoint as well as the executive actions that the president and the administration can take.”