WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders are jolting ahead with another coronavirus rescue package as President Donald Trump indicated that Americans will need more aid during the stark pandemic and economic shutdown.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said another $1 trillion is needed, beyond the just-passed $2.2 trillion effort. She wants another round of direct payments to Americans and more money for companies to keep making payroll. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said in recent days that health care should top the list, signaling his intent to get to work on a new bill.
“We’re going to take good care of our people,” Trump said Monday at his daily White House briefing. “It was not their fault.”
It’s a rare sign of emerging consensus as Washington responds to the public health emergency and severe economic fallout that is ransacking communities nationwide, a crisis on par with a war effort or the Great Depression.
The contours of the package are still being debated and any votes in Congress remain a logistical conundrum. The House and Senate adjourned for most of the month, as part of strict stay-at-home orders from public health officials to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus.
On an afternoon conference call with House Democrats, Pelosi told lawmakers at least another $1 trillion would be needed, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.
The California Democrat has vowed to put the next package together in time for a House vote this month.
Democrats are pushing for wider-ranging relief measures to help hospitals, health-care workers, farmers, first responders and education programs, among other things. A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Joe Neguse (Colo.) plans to roll out a proposal for $250 billion to assist smaller cities and communities they say have been shortchanged on assistance so far. A number of congressional Republicans have demanded an expansion of a new $349 billion small-business loan program, and Trump has also said that initiative needs more money.
In a sign that lawmakers might be preparing to cut a deal, Pelosi has backed away from some of her recent proposals that Republicans found most objectionable, including a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he believes that Congress will have to act again to address health-care needs, among other things, opening the door to a pact. The two leaders spoke Thursday.
McConnell, R-Ky., said Congress should focus on correcting any shortcomings in the earlier $2.2 trillion aid bill and rely on health care experts for solutions to “wipe out” the virus.
Pelosi, D-Calif., last week also backed off her more sweeping proposals for an infrastructure package to put people back to work, focusing on the more immediate health care and economic needs.
Former Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen joined a private call and warned Democrats the economic fallout will depend on the public health response to the pandemic, the person said. As businesses shutter to stop the virus’ spread, it has hurled the U.S. economy toward a recession.
Yellen said it was impossible to know how deep and long the recession would be, and added that it would depend on the health response.
The former Fed chair also told them the nation’s unemployment rate is now at least 13% and this week’s jobless report will show higher numbers than last week’s.
Yellen said she expects a 30% contraction of GDP this year, but has seen models as high as 50 percent, according to a Democratic aide unauthorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.
The earlier relief package, approved in late March, included one-time $1,200 direct payments to Americans, along with forgivable small business loans for companies to keep making payroll. It also included a boost of unemployment pay, money for hospitals and a $500 billion fund for bigger corporations and industries.