GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus
Republican senators, currently spread across the country because of Congress’s three-week break, say they are already starting to discuss a “phase four” coronavirus relief bill.
The talk comes after reports of spiking unemployment claims, and signs that the coronavirus crisis could last for months.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told a Maine NBC station that senators were already weighing potential next steps as the coronavirus continues to cause severe economic damage and the number of cases within the United States has grown exponentially.
“That’s why we’re having informal discussion right now, on whether a fourth package of assistance and stimulus for our economy may be necessary,” she said.
Collins added during an interview with the Bangor Daily News that “the fourth bill, I believe, would focus on both health care concerns and the economy, and one way to spur the economy would be an infrastructure package.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told WNAX, a local radio station, that there were already conversations underway about the next bill.
“We haven’t seen the impact of this package so far, but we are already discussing a phase four. Included in phase four will be some of the modifications that we learned about in phase three,” he said.
The talks come roughly a week after President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion bill into law. House Democrats are racing to come up with their own package even as House and Senate GOP leaders have remained noncommittal about the need for further legislation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also told reporters in the Capitol this week that all lawmakers “need to be thinking forward about what that next phase might be.”
“I have reached out to different colleagues just over the weekend, talking about the concerns that I have that while we’re focused right now on the immediate health impacts, phase three was the economic impact,” she said.
Murkowski added that some of her concerns were that Congress would “leave behind” issues like mental and behavioral health.
“Your family has been impacted. The business that you work to build and put your whole life into may now be gone. We saw after the depression in the ’30s, the number of suicides. We know the impacts on people when you are in close quarters with a lot of stress. We see domestic violence. We see substance abuse. We see levels of addiction that we wish were not present with us. And so it’s something that I don’t think we have fully factored yet,” she said.
Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) held a tele-town hall on Thursday night, where they noted that they were keeping track of perceived gaps in the third coronavirus package, which provided direct cash assistance for individuals, bolstered unemployment and set aside hundreds of billions in aid for small businesses and impacted industries like airlines.
The preliminary talks among GOP senators come as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are publicly throwing out a myriad of ideas for the next bill, including a massive infrastructure package, free coronavirus treatment and more money for states and hospitals.
Republicans also acknowledge that at least a piece of the next bill will likely be corrections to, or the addressing of areas Congress missed altogether, in the third phase.
“I think phase four needs to first of all be focused on what we find are the shortcomings in phase three. There had to be some. There was no way we could put a package together that quickly — though we needed to put it together that quickly — and have not left some gaps. And we need to fill those gaps,” Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told The Salt Lake Tribune that next steps by Congress would likely be determined by the virus. There are currently 245,658 cumulative known cases in the United States, including 6,069 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“If this goes on for a longer period of time, why, there will be the need for additional funding to maintain employment in small businesses and to maintain employment at large businesses, as well as to fill the coffers in the unemployment insurance pool,” Romney said.
He noted that while Congress had already provided $150 billion to state and local governments in the last bill, “that money would also have to be added to if this dragged on.”
Any fourth legislation is unlikely to come together for weeks with both the House and Senate out of Washington until at least April 20. That date could slip depending on the intensity of the virus.
GOP leadership, and the White House, have argued for a wait-and-see approach to a fourth coronavirus bill, saying they should focus first on implementing the $2.2 trillion package.
“The key right now is executing this package. It’s a gigantic package. It covers enormous ground. … Our job is to execute, then let’s take a look at this. Give it three, four, five, six weeks before we jump into something new,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters at the White House on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a similar tone in an interview with Hewitt earlier this week, saying “first, we need to see what the effect of the current bill is.”
“The Treasury, of course, is wrestling with all this complicated effort to speed checks to individuals and small businesses to get us through this period until the health care pandemic begins to subside. So I think we need to wait a few days here, a few weeks, and see how things are working out,” he said.