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Phase 4 of virus relief bill begins political dance, Dems put hazard ‘Heroes Fund’ in spotlight

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Despite a push by some lawmakers for a potential “Phase 4” coronavirus response bill, Republicans and Democrats are reaching an impasse on the details.

While Congress is under mounting pressure to pass another trillion-dollar relief bill to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, key differences in what Democrats and the GOP are advocating may be stepping on the brakes of legislation many were hoping could be passed by the end of April.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to buy some time against the push by Democrats to swiftly get another package approved. The Kentucky Republican is reportedly planning to ask for unanimous consent on Thursday on an additional $250 billion to help small businesses meet their payrolls. Almost $350 billion in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act was already appropriated by Congress to meet this need but the program has fallen short of funding.

But before his announcement of the planned unanimous consent request, McConnell did not reach out to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., The Hill reported. Nor did Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who chairs the Small Business Committee, reach out to his Democrat counterpart, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly passed the previous stimulus bills, an $8.3 billion coronavirus bill on March 6, another on March 18 and finally, the $2.2 trillion “Phase 3” legislation that was passed on March 26. But Republican leaders are reportedly expecting that Schumer will be trying to push through Democrat “wish lists” in an upcoming bill, including up to $25,000 in hazard pay for essential workers.

“As the administration works to implement this historic legislation and push money out the door, Senate Republicans believe any potential further action will need to be tailored to the actual needs of our nation, not plucked off preexisting partisan wish lists,” McConnell said Tuesday, pressing for impending legislation to focus more on fixing any issues with the existing CARES Act.

Schumer vowed that the “Heroes Fund,” referring to the hazard pay for essential workers, is one “of our very highest priorities in COVID-4,” the potential fourth relief bill. Democrats are also pushing for changes to the enrollment window for the uninsured in the Affordable Care Act as well as more funding to help bolster the budgets of state and local governments.

But Republicans are pushing back, calling for a focus instead on assessing the effects of the bills already passed. And with the number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. expected to be peaking in the coming days and weeks, there is a growing doubt that lawmakers will even reconvene in Washington as expected in the week of April 20.

A senior Senate GOP staffer told The Hill that it is “premature” to discuss another coronavirus relief bill when the last piece of legislation “is not even two weeks old yet.”

“We’re focused on seeing how implementation goes and taking stock of the epidemic. The peaks of infection are coming down because of social distancing and the effectiveness of the quarantines,” the aide said.

“We’re taking stock of what’s actually needed. This isn’t a Clyburn moment to take advantage of a crisis,” the aide added, referring to House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina who told his Democratic colleagues last month that the stimulus bill was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

McConnell’s call for unanimous consent on the extra small-business funding puts Schumer between a rock and a hard place as he either makes Democrats look bad by voting against the request, or goes along but loses bargaining power later.

“We’re going to need to give more money to hospitals and health care professionals. We’re going to have to give more money to states and locals, we’re going to have to give more money to schools,” the senior GOP aide told The Hill, noting that “everybody knows there’s going to need to be a 4.0.”

“But it’s not like the market is saying, ‘Oh my God, when is 4.0 coming?’ ” the aide added. “There’s not as much urgency to doing a 4.0 right now.”

Frieda Powers

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