News & Media

Coronavirus May 18 Update: House Aid Bill Heads to Senate With No Clear Timeline, Unemployment Benefits Lag for Many Workers, and DC Shutdown Extension Disrupts Plans for Lawmakers’ Fundraisers

Monday, May 18, 2020

$3 trillion coronavirus aid bill heads to the Senate with no clear timeline 

The House passage Friday of a Democrat-written coronavirus relief package amounts to an opening bid for a bipartisan compromise that could be weeks or months away. 

By a margin of 208-199, Democratic leaders muscled through a $3 trillion aid measure that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., decried as "the largest bill in the history of the United States we have ever voted on." Republicans voted in virtual lockstep to oppose the measure, saying it was too costly, lacked GOP input, and included provisions unrelated to the pandemic. 

Democratic leaders struggled to hold their caucus together. Some progressives voted against it on the grounds that even more relief was needed, while some party moderates in swing districts said only a bill with bipartisan support was worthy of their vote. 

The sweeping legislation offers nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, another round of rebate checks to families, $175 billion for hospitals and virus testing, expanded food aid, an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, and much more. 

But even before the voting began, both sides knew the measure stood no chance of becoming law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked the bill as a "liberal wish list" and President Donald Trump had already threatened a veto. Now, the hard work of negotiating a bipartisan deal could begin. But the timing for new legislation remained uncertain. 

"Let's wait," pleaded National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, in a brief talk with reporters Friday, as he made the case for a pause to determine the impact of previous aid measures. "I don't think we can spend ourselves into prosperity." 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed her irritation with the call for a pause in aid. "Let's take a pause?" she asked on the House floor. "Do you think this virus is taking a pause?" 

McConnell, who has led the Senate push for a pause, said he was open to a new round of aid. But he declined to offer any timeline.
"I think we all believe that another bill probably is going to be necessary," he told Fox News last week. "But I'm not prepared today to put a precise date on when that will be." Jennifer Shutt has much more on the House bill's passage here

The bottom line: The size and timing of a new aid package that could become law was still anyone's guess. 

Unemployment benefits lag for many workers 

Relief measures passed by Congress so far have managed to bypass many unemployed workers. 

While lawmakers have offered an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits through July, many workers don't qualify for regular unemployment in most states. Those include the self-employed, workers in the "gig" economy, independent contractors, and workers with medical conditions whose doctors have advised them to self-quarantine, among others. 

In an attempt to reach those workers, Congress in March created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PL 116-136). That program covered some 3.4 million workers as of late April, according to Labor Department data. 

But 11 states have yet to make payments from that program, which is scheduled to end on Dec. 31. The new House Democratic bill would extend applications to Jan. 31, 2021, and workers who apply by that deadline would be eligible to receive payments through the end of next March. 

And even the more generous unemployment insurance benefits aren't reaching all eligible workers, as states struggle to keep up with surging demand. An estimated 36 million workers filed claims in the eight weeks since the pandemic shut down huge swaths of the economy. 

Florida, for example, hadn't advanced 74 percent of its initial claims as of April 25, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of Labor Department data. Mark Bocchetti has the full story here

District's shutdown extension puts fundraisers in limbo 

Washington, D.C., Democratic mayor Muriel Bowser last week extended the city's shutdown from May 15 to June 8, throwing a wrench in the plans of some -- mostly Republican -- lawmakers with in-person fundraisers already on the books, Kate Ackley reports

GOP lawmakers like Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri all have fundraising events scheduled for mid-June, though their staffs acknowledge they will likely be moved online. The District continues to see a steady stream of new coronavirus cases, totaling more than 6,500. Maryland and Virginia are taking steps to reopen, although parts of northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs of Washington remain closed. 

While many lobbyists expressed disbelief at the push for in-person events, Zoom fatigue has fully set in on K Street. "These video conferencing fundraisers are simply not the same as in-person engagement," Petrizzo Group founder T.J. Petrizzo said. 

Proposed House tax cuts have high price tag 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, any legislation costing $883 billion over a decade would have seemed like a big deal. 

But that tally is just the preliminary estimate of the revenue provisions in the House Democrats' $3 trillion relief package (HR 6800), as calculated by the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper. And the estimate is sure to grow, the committee made clear, because there is not yet enough information to calculate costs of a few other revenue provisions in the bill. 

By far the single costliest item in the revenue-related provisions is a second round of rebate checks to most families. Those payments would cost more than $412.5 billion, and expanding the benefits of a previous round would bring the cost to $435 billion. 

The House bill offers payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $2,400 per couple, with the check amount decreasing for single incomes exceeding $75,000 or $150,000 for joint filers. Adults would also get $1,200 per dependent for up to three dependents. 

An expansion of the child tax credit, from $2,000 to $3,000 per child, would cost $118.8 billion. And eliminating the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions, as House Democrats seek to do for 2020 and 2021, would cost nearly $136.6 billion. 

In a move that rankled some in the Progressive Caucus, the bill also calls for providing health insurance for the unemployed by fully subsidizing for nine months the premiums imposed under the COBRA program, which allows newly jobless workers to buy coverage through their former employer. 

Progressives such as Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., have said providing coverage by expanding Medicare or the Obama administration's health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) would be less costly. The proposed COBRA subsidies would cost $106 billion, the Joint Committee estimated.