U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been attacked by Donald Trump over a Chinatown visit: REUTERS
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will delay or cancel Congress’ August recess if negotiators need more time to reach a deal on a coronavirus relief package that is expected to include a renewal of beefed-up unemployment benefits and more federal assistance to state governments in order to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We absolutely have to. We also have to come to an agreement. The timetable is the timetable of the American people needing their unemployment insurance, their direct payments, their assistance for rent and mortgage foreclosure forbearance,” and other federal aid programmes Democrats have proposed, Ms Pelosi said in an interview with CNN on Monday.
Cancelling the August recess would be a highly unusual move in an election year.
Lawmakers typically use the time away from Washington as a stretch-run opportunity to touch base with their constituents and drum up political support in their home states and districts before Election Day in November.
Republican congressional leaders and White House economic advisers have increasingly signalled their willingness in recent weeks to engage Democrats on another coronavirus relief package, though the parties are still weeks away from a deal.
The government has already spent more than $2.7trn on earlier coronavirus relief efforts, roughly 13 per cent of GDP, causing concerns among Republicans about mounting federal debt.
Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has said it has become “increasingly clear” the government will need to spend big again to bolster the US economy and health care system, which are both on the brink of being overwhelmed in many states as hospitalisations from Covid-19 have either stayed constant or increased in recent weeks.
“We will try to make it targeted. We will try to incentivize not just work — although work is crucial and going back to work. We want to incentivize investments. We want a pro-growth package,” Mr Kudlow said in an interview with Fox Business on Monday.
In May, House Democrats passed a $3trn package that outlined their priorities for a compromise bill with the GOP-controlled Senate and White House.
That package includes billions of dollars for state and local governments, help for people struggling with rent and mortgage payments, expanded mail-in voting for the elections this November, and an infrastructure package that includes a plan to expand broadband internet access. Democrats are also asking for an increase in food stamp benefits and a renewal of an unemployment benefit programme for people laid off during the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that reforming liability laws to shield health care workers and businesses from lawsuits stemming from people’s exposure to Covid-19 is one of his top priorities.
He expects relevant party and committee leaders from both sides of the aisle to come to the negotiating table when lawmakers return to Washington next week.
“I’m predicting we will have one more rescue package, which we’ll begin to debate and discuss next week,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I think you could anticipate this coming to a head sometime within the next three weeks, beginning next week.”
More than 138,000 Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic of the more than 3.43m cases as of Monday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote to other Democrats that he remained hopeful the chambers could reach another deal to address the crisis before the scheduled August recess.
“It is my hope that the House can complete its work on all of these items in a responsible and timely fashion and in a way that does not infringe on Members’ previously scheduled work as part of the August District Work Period,” the Maryland Democrat wrote.
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