Coronavirus forces U.S. lawmakers to overcome steep partisan divide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With coronavirus instances reported in all 50 U.S. states, lawmakers in Washington are working to restrict the financial injury from the widening epidemic. To accomplish that, they need to overcome one other drawback – partisan gridlock.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters whereas strolling to his workplace, as Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus illness (COVID-19), on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

The Republican-controlled Senate is predicted on Wednesday to vote on a roughly $105 billion help bundle that bolsters safety-net packages and supplies free testing for the extremely contagious coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives handed the bundle by an amazing bipartisan margin on Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging his colleagues to approve it shortly.

“Gag and vote for it,” he mentioned at a information convention on Tuesday.

That could also be troublesome for some Senate Republicans who fear that the proposed laws’s sick-leave provisions might heap prices on small companies. Others have objected it doesn’t cowl those that work at firms that make use of greater than 500 folks.

“I’m pretty concerned with the House bill making a bad situation worse in our economy,” Republican Senator James Lankford mentioned on Tuesday.

Senator Rand Paul, a conservative Republican, will provide an modification to pay for the brand new spending within the laws, mentioned Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. “This would include ending our decades-long involvement in Afghanistan,” he mentioned.

Still, the Senate is predicted to approve the invoice this week and instantly flip to a 3rd effort, after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately warned that unemployment might hit 20% if Congress doesn’t act.

The third bundle might embrace common objects, like giving $1,000 checks to Americans, and fewer common objects, resembling an costly bailout for airways that threat falling out of business due to the sharp decline in journey due the outbreak.

It was unclear when that will be handed or how quickly Americans would get the cash, however President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday morning to push the trouble.

“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” Trump mentioned in his tweet.

McConnell mentioned lawmakers have been working as quickly as doable on the third bundle. “But first, we need to pass the House bill, which hopefully we’ll do later today,” he mentioned on the Senate ground.


Mindful of the backlash to the financial institution rescue bundle put collectively through the 2008 monetary disaster, Republicans engaged on the third effort say it doesn’t quantity to a bailout of the trade.

“Chairman Shelby opposes bailouts,” mentioned Blair Taylor, a spokeswoman for Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who’s engaged on the trouble.

Separately, the Trump administration on Tuesday night time additionally requested Congress for one more $45.eight billion to shore up U.S. businesses responding to the outbreak.

It would additionally give further funds to assist beef up sanitation efforts at airports, present further protecting gear to federal brokers, bolster cybersecurity protections, enhance teleworking capabilities and shore up the Amtrak passenger rail service, which has seen a steep drop in ridership.

Health officers have suggested Americans to keep away from non-essential journey and huge gatherings in an effort to cease the unfold of the coronavirus, which has contaminated greater than 6,500 folks throughout the nation and killed no less than 115.

McConnell on Wednesday warned his fellow senators to abide by the containment tips, admonishing them towards congregating as they usually do throughout votes, particularly on the “well” of the chamber the place staffers work.

“Come in and vote and leave,” mentioned McConnell, who additionally introduced that the Senate’s typical 15-minute roll-call votes could be prolonged to 30 minutes in order that members didn’t all rush into the chamber directly.


Disputes over taxes and spending have repeatedly introduced Washington to a standstill over the previous decade, however lawmakers to this point have overcome their partisan divisions to confront the disaster.

Congress shortly authorized an preliminary $eight.three billion bundle to enhance the medical response to the pandemic, and the House-passed invoice loved broad help from each Republicans and Democrats.

Sick-leave and family-leave provisions alone within the House-passed laws would value $105 billion, in accordance to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Mnuchin mentioned the third bundle might value $1.three trillion – surpassing the $838 billion in stimulus supplied by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which handed Congress with solely a handful of Republican votes.

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Conservatives like Republican Senator Tom Cotton are calling for it to embrace expanded safety-net advantages.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in the meantime, has proposed spending $750 billion on additional safety-net enhancements, resembling emergency baby take care of well being staff, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mentioned on Tuesday that the third bundle ought to embrace advantages for self-employed staff.

Lawmakers from each events even have lined up towards Trump’s proposed payroll tax minimize on the grounds that it will take too lengthy to make a distinction and wouldn’t assist those that lose their jobs.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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