Dems, GOP Divided Over Rescue Bill 04/03 06:13
Fresh data on Thursday that detailed a record avalanche of unemployment
claims offered no signs of easing the rift between Democrats and Republicans
over the need for new legislation financing infrastructure and other
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fresh data on Thursday that detailed a record avalanche
of unemployment claims offered no signs of easing the rift between Democrats
and Republicans over the need for new legislation financing infrastructure and
other job-creation programs.
With the coronavirus barreling across the country and sending the economy
into a deep freeze, the report that 6.6 million people filed for jobless
benefits last week made congressional action "even more critical," House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. The jaw-dropping figure doubled
last week's record, which itself quadrupled the previous mark.
But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky
Republican had nothing to add to his comments earlier this week that it's not
time for Congress to rush ahead.
McConnell has told interviewers that lawmakers should first assess the
effectiveness of the $2.2 trillion rescue package enacted last week, and has
warned Pelosi against pushing environmental requirements and other Democratic
priorities. He suggested to The Washington Post that the next bill should be
"credibly paid for," after last week's massive measure was financed by adding
more borrowing to a national debt that's already $21 trillion.
A growing but still inconsistent national effort to starve the virus by
ordering Americans to stay at home, which has snuffed out jobs and businesses,
has led President Donald Trump to propose has a $2 trillion infrastructure
package, though without detail.
Talk in the White House has percolated about the inevitability of another
big stimulus package. But as of Thursday morning, there was no immediate plan
to urgently push for a proposal or signal to McConnell to bring the Senate back
to Washington, according to two administration officials who were not
authorized to describe the discussions publicly and spoke on condition of
Other Republicans expressed similar skepticism.
"I'm not opposed to infrastructure. What I'm opposed to is using a crisis to
restructure government," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. He
said before writing more bailout legislation, "We've got to make sure this is
"First things, let's put out the fire," said Sen. John Cornyn, a senior
Republican from Texas, who said focus was needed on efficiently spending the
already approved $2.2 trillion. "Then we can then we can think more carefully
and deliberately about rebuilding the infrastructure."
Trump himself lashed out Thursday at Pelosi's creation of a bipartisan House
select committee on the coronavirus as a "witch hunt" and "ridiculous" and
predicted it would ultimately help build up his poll numbers. "I want to remind
everyone here in our nation's capital, especially in Congress, that this is not
the time for politics, endless partisan investigations," Trump said.
The president also slammed Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer after the
New York lawmaker criticized the administration's response to the pandemic. In
a blistering letter, Trump told Schumer that if he had spent less time on the
"ridiculous impeachment hoax," New York "would not have been so completely
unprepared" for the outbreak.
House Democrats are crafting a bill that Pelosi says is roughly the same
size as Trump's $2 trillion. It would finance road, water and broadband
projects, expand unemployment benefits and funnel money to state and local
governments and hospitals.
With lawmakers at home and not expected to return to Washington until late
this month at best, there was virtually no prospect that Congress could act
soon. Even so, Pelosi has been setting markers for what Democrats want the next
measure to contain, and she said Thursday that the House will move ahead,
regardless of what the GOP-controlled Senate does.
All but daring McConnell to take no action, she added, "It's obvious what is
necessary to be done. To ignore it is to ignore the fact that the virus crisis
is raging, that we can do something about it to rein it in, but it takes
Pelosi said she wants the next bill to extend the extra $600 weekly payments
above existing state levels that last week's legislation is providing. That
extra amount is due to last four months.
She also wants the plan to contain more money for food stamps and for states
to administer the growing numbers of unemployment applicants, plus some kind of
protections for renters.
State and local governments are being hit with a double-whammy: reduced
revenues caused by the pandemic's economic havoc and additional costs of
fighting it. They received a total of $150 billion in last week's bill, along
with added federal payments for state Medicaid budgets, but advocates for
states and cities say it won't be sufficient.
States are required to balance their budgets and many governors are staring
down enormous fiscal gaps. New York, for instance, could be staring at a $9
billion to $15 billion shortfall, according to the state budget director, while
smaller states such as Oklahoma are estimating a $250 million to $500 million
Pressure from governors in Trump strongholds could be a catalyst for
Congress' next coronavirus relief legislation. Pelosi acknowledged that,
telling reporters that demands from state and local officials was "probably the
biggest leverage" Democrats will have to get another bill.
On Thursday, 128 lawmakers, virtually all Democrats, sent Pelosi a letter
requesting more relief for small- and medium-sized cities.
The approaches taken by Pelosi and McConnell also reflect the rivalries
between the two, as well as internal party politics.
Pelosi runs a top-down operation, taking a lead in virtually all major
legislation that involves negotiations with Republicans. She often seeks to
demonstrate that she's consulting with rank-and-file lawmakers, such as when
she produced last week's $2.5 trillion Democratic coronavirus proposal.
Republicans such as McConnell like to demonstrate toughness in dealings with
Pelosi. That was on display when he limited her participation in the last
month's talks on rebate checks and relief for businesses big and small.
Pelosi also said she will establish a special House committee with subpoena
power to oversee the government's spending of the trillions it is providing to
combat the effects of the pandemic.
She said the new bipartisan panel would be headed by No. 3 House Democratic
leader James Clyburn of South Carolina and will try guarding against waste,
profiteering, price gouging and political favoritism. Pelosi said it was
modeled on a Senate committee that oversaw defense spending during World War II.
McCarthy, the top House Republican, said he opposed Pelosi's proposal,
saying it would take weeks to establish and would duplicate work by existing