Republicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill

Republican senators are leaning into their go-slow approach on the next coronavirus bill.

Bolstered by last week’s unexpectedly positive jobs report, Senate Republicans are signaling they will not pass another bill before late July. They have also flatly rejected the $3 trillion price tag of the bill passed last month by House Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Trump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (R-Ky.) indicated to GOP colleagues during a closed-door policy lunch on Tuesday that he does not anticipate the chamber will take up another coronavirus relief package before leaving for a two-week July 4 recess, according to senators in the meeting.


Instead, McConnell told Republicans he viewed the next work period — which runs from July 20 to Aug. 7 — as the time to take up and pass a bill, setting up a crucial three-week window.

“That seemed like a pretty wise strategy,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRick Scott acknowledges Biden 'absolutely' won fair election After vote against aid package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, “and we’ll have a better sense for what we’ll need to do probably a few weeks down the road.”

Since Congress passed a record $2.2 trillion package in late March, Republicans have hit pause on another comprehensive package, though they’ve approved additional Paycheck Protection Program funds and other changes to the emergency loan program for small businesses.

The decision to wait for at least six more weeks before acting again is the latest indication they aren’t planning to change that strategy. Republicans say they need more time to evaluate how the total of nearly $3 trillion already approved by Congress is being used, arguing that moving quickly would be fiscally irresponsible.

Asked when he thinks the Senate will take up another bill, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters: “The end of July.”

That is “frankly my sense of when I think we’ll have all the information we need to put the next bill together. And it might be about the time when all of the money … has been spent,” he added.


Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, added that he viewed waiting until after the July 4 recess as the “right timeline.”

“I think we’ve spent a massive amount of money, not all of it has even been spent yet … and I think we need to evaluate what we’ve done before we do anything else,” he said.

But not every GOP senator is on board with leadership’s time frame.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Collins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits MORE (R-Maine), who faces a tough reelection bid in November, told The Hill that she would prefer the Senate move faster on another coronavirus measure.

“I would prefer that we act sooner. In Maine, communities are really suffering and seeing sharp revenue drops,” she said when asked about waiting until after the July 4 recess.

Democrats are trying to build public pressure on McConnell to bring a bill to the floor this month, warning that if Republicans wait too long they could inject fresh turmoil into the economy, which entered a recession in February.

“If the president and Senate Republicans declare victory too early, if they lull into complacency now, if they wait too long to pass another round of emergency relief, the economic conditions in our country will deteriorate. If we do nothing, more Americans will lose their jobs,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.).

Complicating the GOP time frame, the House is only scheduled to be in town for two weeks in July before leaving Washington until September.

The GOP’s wait-and-see strategy isn’t without risks: Tens of millions remain unemployed following job cuts sparked by the coronavirus.

But in a surprise, Labor Department data released Friday showed the U.S. economy added 2.5 million jobs in May as businesses begin to reopen after coronavirus-related closures. The country lost 20.7 million jobs in April.

The unemployment rate in May dipped to 13.3 percent, down from 14.7 percent the previous month when it hit the highest level since the Great Depression.

The numbers shattered economists’ expectations that unemployment would approach 20 percent and millions more jobs would be lost. The figures quickly bolstered the thinking among Republicans that they should not rush to pass a fifth coronavirus bill this month, though GOP senators say they expect Congress will need to pass another relief package eventually.


“I think it’s very encouraging. You know, it’s hard to know what to make of it because it defied all of the more negative predictions,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees MORE (Texas), a member of GOP leadership.

A spokesman for Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination Grassley says he'll decide this fall whether to run in 2022 Yellen deputy Adeyemo on track for quick confirmation MORE (R-Iowa), who chairs the Finance Committee, said shortly after the jobs data was released that it “underscores why Congress should take a thoughtful approach and not rush to pass expensive legislation … before gaining a better understanding of the economic condition of the country.”

“It’s too early to say what that legislation might encompass,” the spokesman added.

While senators and administration officials say nascent, informal bipartisan talks are underway about the next bill, they don’t expect formal negotiations to get started for at least another month. Republicans want consensus among themselves before they start negotiating with Democrats, and several points of division remain within the party, including what to do with unemployment insurance and help for state and local governments.

They also need to agree on a price tag. While Senate Republicans are likely to back a measure that’s significantly less than the $3 trillion pitch from Democrats, McConnell hasn’t publicly endorsed an amount. GOP senators acknowledged they had heard a “rumor” about the next bill being around $1 trillion, but stressed that no decision had been made.

“Nobody’s set a cap on it,” said Cornyn.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill On The Money: Manhattan DA obtains Trump tax returns | Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda | Biden faces first setback as Tanden teeters OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary | GOP bill would codify Trump rule on financing for fossil fuels, guns | Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' MORE (R-N.D.) added that they would weigh a potential price tag against “what’s happened ... and how the current program is playing out.”

“Whether it’s a trillion, a half trillion or 2 trillion, I don’t know,” he added.