Congress considers new virus aid as school health crisis worsens
WASHINGTON (AP) – Two months after House Democrats approved a $ 3 trillion COVID-19 aid package, Senate Republicans are set to unveil their $ 1,000 billion counter-offer dollars, striving to control spending as the virus outbreak spreads and the societal fallout worsens.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is expected to introduce the GOP bill as early as next week, said on Wednesday that he spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin while the House interlocutor Blanche on the talks was preparing to negotiate with the Democrats.
But after hitting the “break” in May, as McConnell put it, Republicans now face a potentially more serious situation. They had hoped the pandemic would subside and the economic fallout would reverse. Instead, coronavirus cases are on the rise, states are resuming closures, and parents are wondering if it is safe to send children back to school.
“Sadly, it’s not over yet,” McConnell said during a visit to a Kentucky hospital.
“Some were hoping it would go away sooner than it did,” he said, urging residents to wear masks and social distancing.
“The straightforward rhetoric here that everyone needs to understand: This is not going to go away,” McConnell said.
This would be the fifth virus rescue bill since the spring, all of this being an unprecedented federal intervention to counter the era. Unlike any health crisis since the Spanish Flu of 1918 and an economic upheaval comparable to the Great Depression, Congress is trying to craft a comprehensive national strategy to bring the pandemic under control.
Polls show Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus outbreak, and lawmakers are rushing to ease health and economic crises before they too face voters in November.
House of Commons Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $ 3 trillion coronavirus aid bill, once dismissed by McConnell and others as a Liberal wish list, now doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
“How many times have we said, ‘This is a critical time’? Pelosi said on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “We are really at a critical point now.”
The House and Senate have similar funding priorities – to help schools reopen, provide unemployment benefits to unemployed Americans, and increase health care testing, treatment, and a vaccine – but they differ widely in size. and their scope.
House Democrats are providing $ 100 billion to reopen schools in an education stabilization fund that Senate Democrats say could reach $ 430 billion to include more money for child care , colleges and other educational needs. Senate Republicans are floating between $ 50 billion and $ 75 billion in education funds, but talks are still ongoing.
This week, GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, along with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Chair of the health, education and labor committee, proposed childcare grants. to providers who reopen safely. Similar bills in the past have been funded at around $ 25 billion.
The White House assured this week that more education dollars would flow as Trump pushes to reopen schools.
“We want the schools to be open, and they will be,” Trump told reporters Wednesday at the White House, before leaving for an event in Georgia.
Trump’s advisers are divided, with some pushing for even more robust education spending, even if that annoys Republicans determined to maintain record deficits. Some Conservatives want education money tied to reopening schools or even sent directly to parents, like a school voucher.
The two sides are equally divided over how much aid to send to cash-strapped states and cities asking for money and unemployed Americans in a time of record unemployment.
Republicans want to end the weekly unemployment increase of $ 600 that expires at the end of the month. They say it discourages going back to work and want to reduce it to a few hundred dollars a month.
In its place, Republicans are considering a back-to-work allowance as well as tax breaks for employers who are improving workplaces with safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Democrats want to keep the $ 600 unemployment benefit increase, and Pelosi’s bill would send nearly $ 1 trillion to states and cities to shore up budgets and avoid layoffs of municipal workers.
Congress is also considering redirecting some funds already approved. For example, the popular Small Business Loan Paycheck Protection Program has remaining funds that could be used for a revamped GOP Sen business loan program. Marco Rubio from Florida.
One uncertainty is how to improve the country’s poor performance in virus testing.
Republicans and Democrats are complaining that the $ 25 billion in testing funds that were approved in April are not being spent even though parts of the country have testing shortages and widespread delays in test results.
Pelosi’s bill provides an additional $ 75 billion for virus testing and contact tracing, with guidelines for the federal government to put in place a national testing program. She said on Wednesday it was time for Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to provide the equipment and supplies needed for a testing protocol. Senate Democrats have recounted the Trump administration’s “chaotic” approach and proposed a 26-point test plan.
Republicans have been largely silent on how much testing funding will be available in the new bill. McConnell assured Kentuckians on Wednesday: “We are continuing tests, treatments and vaccines as the country sued the Manhattan Project during World War II. “