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Congressional Leaders Divided On Next Steps To Confront Coronavirus Threat

Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks before she signs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act after it passed the House on March 27.
Andrew Harnik
Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks before she signs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act after it passed the House on March 27.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is aggressively advocating for a second wave of legislation on top of the recently enacted $2 trillion rescue package to confront the coronavirus pandemic, but her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is advocating for a more cautious wait-and-see approach.

In a letter to House lawmakers on Saturday, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress must "double down" on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law just nine days ago by President Trump.

She is calling for additional assistance to farmers, extending unemployment benefits and additional direct payments to Americans. She also said the package must include additional funds for cash-strapped states and more resources for health care workers on the front lines.

"Our communities cannot afford to wait, and we must move quickly," Pelosi wrote, adding that she would like the House to pass the legislation this month. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., has already announced the House will not return before April 20, but there is no date certain for when it can reconvene.

"We will listen to the advice from medical experts as to when we can proceed with the business of Congress in Washington, so it is not possible to give a definitive return date," Hoyer told lawmakers last week.

McConnell told The Associated Presson Friday that more legislation will be necessary. He said "there will be a next measure" and that it should focus on addressing the shortcomings in the quickly enacted CARES Act. McConnell said the next package "should be more a targeted response to what we got wrong and what we didn't do enough for — and at the top of the list there would have to be the health care part of it."

McConnell has been largely dismissive of Pelosi in recent days, repeatedly suggesting in media interviews that she is using the crisis to advance unrelated Democratic policy priorities. Pelosi and House Democrats are also calling for a major infrastructure package — a priority echoed by Trump in recent days — that she is describing as the "Phase 4" effort to recover from the crisis and get the economy going again. On Friday, Pelosi acknowledged that Congress will have to pass another wave of relief legislation before it can turn to its proposed infrastructure package.

In addition to the roughly $2 trillion CARES package, Congress passed two other bills providing emergency funding for testing, paid sick and family leave, and unemployment assistance.

As they discuss the need for expanded economic relief in the short term, Democrats are making a renewed push for their $760 billion infrastructure package that the party first released earlier this year.

"Make no mistake, this is an incredible economic blow to America. What we have done has mitigated some of that damage, but we're going to need a longer-term recovery package," Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told reporters last week.

Record-setting unemployment numbers and growing problems with the implementation of the CARES Act for small businesses and those seeking unemployment is increasing the urgency to act first on more immediate economic and health care concerns. It will be weeks before Congress can act. The Senate is currently scheduled to reconvene on April 20. McConnell told the AP that he was "not in favor of rushing" out new legislation until Congress had a better understanding of what is needed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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