WASHINGTON — The nation’s political leaders return to the capital this week with their sights on a fifth — and perhaps final — round of coronavirus relief before the November elections.
The stakes are high and the timetable is short with Congress’ August recess looming. House leaders have said they may delay recess if needed to reach a deal. After Congress adjourns, prospects for bipartisan compromise will likely cool as the election season heats up.
In the meantime, unemployment benefits keeping millions of people financially afloat in the midst of a deep recession are set to expire in a matter of days.
The rent is also coming due at the end of the month — just as a moratorium on evictions from certain types of housing approved in an earlier relief package is about to end.
Schools are preparing to reopen as COVID-19 infections surge across the country — but many teachers and administrators lack the resources they need to do so safely.
And many state and local governments are reeling from massive revenue shortfalls as a result of nationwide shutdown orders, threatening essential programs and services in cities and towns across the country.
“They’re getting hit with a double whammy: greater expenses, less revenue,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Friday on a conference call. He accused Republicans of dragging their feet on another round of coronavirus relief but said they’ve finally “woken up” to the need for another package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to unveil his party’s proposal when the Senate returns next week.
The GOP proposal will reportedly carry a price tag of around $1.3 trillion, and McConnell said at a press event in Kentucky this week that it will focus on schools, jobs and health care, according to Politico. The GOP bill will also likely include liability protections to shield businesses, schools and other organizations from lawsuits as they reopen amid the pandemic.
A bipartisan group of a dozen House lawmakers backed such protections in a letter to congressional leaders this week. Virginia Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, was among the signatories.
Extending employment benefits is also likely to be a point of negotiation. McConnell said this week basic unemployment benefits are “extremely important” but called the level provided in the last coronavirus package a “bonus not to go back to work.”
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.