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Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief

Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief
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The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from major U.S. companies, is calling for a slew of immediate government actions to address the rapidly growing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, including a national mask mandate and action on a relief bill.

“It’s not as though it’s either safety or economic recovery. There is no economic recovery without safety,” the group's president, Joshua Bolten, told reporters on Tuesday.

In remarks that were critical of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic without directly mentioning the president, Bolten laid out a slew of priorities to get the pandemic under control and boost businesses. In addition to a national mask mandate, Bolten said the government needs to issue clear safety guidelines for businesses, implement a national testing strategy and reengage with the World Health Organization.

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President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE has long been skeptical of masks, opting to let states make key decisions on the pandemic instead of setting federal standards, and withdrew from the World Health Organization.

Bolten also said on Tuesday that one of the most critical things for the economy would be immediate action by Congress on another relief measure.

“We’re in the ‘it should be enacted now’ camp,” he said when asked whether such a bill could wait until after the new year.

“What we’re talking about here is important economic relief for people who are hurting, and a lot of economic damage can be done in the next two or three months before the next Congress can get going," Bolten continued.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House House Republican attempts to appeal fine for bypassing metal detector outside chamber MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Ky.) have not directly spoken about the status of the bill, and remain miles apart in their public statements about what it should include.

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Pelosi has been pushing for a $2 trillion package, while McConnell has said any such bill should be more “targeted” and stay in the range of "hundreds of billions of dollars.”

The economic recovery from the pandemic, while faster than many initially expected, has also slowed in recent months as relief measures from March’s CARES Act have dried up for small businesses and many people are still mired in unemployment.

Bolten told reporters that Congress should start with a more limited deal to address the recent surge in COVID-19 infections and need to prepare for properly distributing a vaccine, and build on it with a broader bill focused on shoring up the recovery early in President-elect Biden's administration.

The immediate bill, he said, should still include support for small businesses, struggling families, schools and efforts to close the digital divide.