In a retreat from their prior reluctance, Republican senators are increasingly receptive to the idea of another coronavirus relief package—in fact, it is a question of when and not if.
“I think there’s a general consensus that something more will happen,” said Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of leadership. “We just haven’t been able to define what that will be.”
Some GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republicans alike concede that while they may not yet know how expansive the bill would be or what proposals they wish to include, an economy emerging from the long pandemic slumber will require some sort of boost from the federal government.
Republican senators are eyeing the end of June for a package, a timeline that would mean jumping into negotiations when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess June 1 and then passing it before leaving town for the July Fourth break.
“I think it’s inevitable before the Fourth of July,” Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said. “I just think it’ll be needed with the economy.”
Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) predicted that Congress will “have to do” something in June. “This place has no choice,” he said.
Gardner threatened Thursday to prevent the chamber from going on recess, in a push for immediate recovery legislation to be worked on next week. But the clash was avoided thanks to a promise from leadership for future action.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), also a leadership member, said he expects a bill in the second half of June, at the earliest. “We just had a lot of our colleagues lecture us about the fact that tens of billions of dollars aren’t even out yet,” he said. “We need to know what the need is.”
The summer date for more legislation gives lawmakers time to determine what exactly they want. Republicans have pushed for a “pause” to examine how existing economic aid is working—and how it is not.
The growing acceptance among Republicans to deliver more help represents a growing divide within the party over whether they should further contribute to the sky-high debt the government has amassed through relief legislation, not to mention the nation’s prior debt. In all, Congress has appropriated roughly $3 trillion in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The possibility of another package was not mentioned during Thursday’s GOP lunch, according to Blunt. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains mum on whether his stance has changed.
President Donald Trump and McConnell met Thursday to discuss potential legislation. “We’re working on a package of very positive things,” the president said, declining to elaborate.
Asked by Newsweek whether his stance has evolved, the Kentucky Republican responded, “We’ll keep in touch.” On Tuesday, McConnell said after a lunch that GOP senators had with Trump that they will “discuss the way forward in the next couple of weeks.”
The signaling toward more relief comes amid another gloomy weak for the job market. Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to nearly 39 million since the health crisis began.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill are not the only government officials changing their tune. The Trump administration is as well.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday a “strong likelihood” exists that the country “will need another bill.” And Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been increasingly more vocal about the long-lasting economic harm that could result if the government chooses not to act further.
House Democrats last week approved a mammoth $3 trillion bill that includes a second wave of $1,200 checks, among many other things. But Republicans have made it clear the legislation is going nowhere with the GOP-controlled Senate and White House.
Instead, Republicans are advocating for a more modest proposal. It could include an extension to the weekly boost to state unemployment benefits that the federal government is currently providing. However, Republicans want to decrease the amount from the current $600 federal subsidy because of concerns that some people are making more money without a job.
Other potential items could include infrastructure funding and more state aid, which local leaders continue to say is needed as state governments face furloughs and cuts thanks to significant budget shortfalls. Bipartisan groups have formed in both chambers to push for more immediate relief to states.
But some Republicans say that even with the shift in public sentiment among their colleagues, McConnell and the Senate as a whole are no closer toward working on a new bill.
“I don’t think it’s moved with any noticeable speed this week. I think it’s still in the category of pause, see how what we’ve done so far has worked, get back from recess and see what we’re hearing in the trenches,” said Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.).
“I don’t think you’re going to have much measurable change for at least a couple of weeks,” he added.