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Senate GOP starting to draft next coronavirus proposal

Senate GOP starting to draft next coronavirus proposal
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Republicans are starting to quietly draft pieces of their next coronavirus relief package. 

Republicans aren't expected to begin formally negotiating the fifth bill — or even make an official decision about if they need another relief package — until they return from a two-week break on July 20. 

But GOP senators signaled on Tuesday that they are starting to brainstorm, and in some cases craft, pieces of what will eventually go into their initial offer, with Republicans expected to get an agreement amongst themselves before negotiating with Democrats. 

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Republicans crafted a similar process in March when the $2.2 trillion relief bill was eventually approved by the House and Senate. The House, where Democrats hold the majority, has already approved a new $3 trillion relief bill. 

“I’ve already asked my appropriating subcommittee that does the health and education and labor appropriating to begin to put a package together that will ensure that we have more testing, that we continue to work on therapeutics, and we have the money we need to move forward with the vaccine,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Trump announces intention to nominate two individuals to serve as FEC members Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Mo.).

Congress included $25 billion for testing in an “interim” relief bill passed in late April, but senators want to ramp up the number of tests per day, and expand the testing pool, as they country heads toward the fall, with schools still debating whether or not to reconvene classes in person. 

In addition to the component on testing, Republicans are reconvening a working group on small business relief. 

The federal government is set to stop accepting new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, at the end of Tuesday, raising questions for lawmakers about what to do with the approximately $130 billion left in the program. 

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Democrats will try to pass legislation on Tuesday night that would extend the application window into early August, but Republicans are expected to block that bill. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsin GOP says hackers stole .3M Hillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Rubio warns that election interference may ramp up around Election Day MORE (R-Fla.), who helped spearhead the creation of the PPP, said he wants to use the money leftover to help structure a second round of small business aid. 

“My preference is that we hold on to the $130 billion …[and], using that to fund a second round of assistance to small businesses. Obviously we'll have to be more targeted at truly small businesses,” Rubio told reporters on Tuesday. 

“In addition to that, I'm also developing a program to provide financing for businesses in under served communities or opportunity zones and other zip codes that would fall in that category,” Rubio added. 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham wants to review ActBlue's source of small-dollar contributions GOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (R-Ohio) said members of the Senate Finance Committee were going to meet this week as part of their talks about the next coronavirus package. 

“No decisions have been made, I can tell you that. ... We're still meeting and talking. We have a Finance Committee discussion, I think it's tomorrow, on ideas,” Portman said. 

The prospects for another coronavirus package have been in limbo for weeks after Republicans hit “pause,” saying they wanted to assess how the nearly $3 trillion already appropriated by Congress was being spent and weigh potential changes. 

The House passed a nearly $3 trillion package in mid-May but that bill has been declared “dead on arrival” in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' On The Money: Trump makes a late pitch on the economy | US economy records record GDP gains after historic COVID-19 drop | Pelosi eyes big COVID-19 deal in lame duck Lawmakers say infrastructure efforts are falling victim to deepening partisan divide MORE (R-Ky.) has pointed to the work period after the July 4 recess as when the chamber would potentially act on the next bill. The Senate is set to return to Washington, D.C. on July 20 and leave by August 7, a schedule McConnell indicated on Tuesday he does not anticipate changing. 

“So, I think the time to focus on this, as I said three months ago and as others have said today, is that period in July, which also I think dovetails nicely with the perfect time to take an assessment of the economy and the progress we're making on the healthcare front,” McConnell told reporters. 

McConnell added that he anticipates Republicans will focus on three areas, primarily, in the next bill, which the GOP leader has predicted will be narrower than the House-passed legislation.

"What I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, is the focus will be kids, jobs, and healthcare. What I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, is any bill that passes the Senate will have liability protections in it," he said.