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Next coronavirus relief bill shaping into epic battle as House and Senate dig heels in

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As members of Congress begin returning to Washington, D.C. on Monday, the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate remain far apart on a new coronavirus relief package, even as President Donald Trump says the best thing to help states and businesses will be to reopen the economy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have a list of competing priorities that will make any new spending deal tougher to reach.

In fact, as The Hill reports, Republican senators have already said they’re not at all confident a quick deal can be reached, despite the fact that scores of businesses around the country are struggling and are on the verge of permanently closing due to ongoing shutdown orders.

“I don’t think we’re ready to talk about what the next step is going to be yet,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a leading Republican and adviser to McConnell.

Added Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 GOP senator, it’s “too early to go down that line.”

“It needs to be bipartisan, which is what we had last time with the CARES Act, 96-0 in the Senate,” he said in an interview with PBS Newshour.

However, as The Hill reported:

…[T]he political and policy gulfs between the chambers — and even members of the same party — are injecting a fresh round of partisanship into the coronavirus negotiations on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were able to pass four bills in the span of nearly two months with little opposition as the virus took a wrecking ball to the country’s economy. 

Pelosi and McConnell have each pressed their own priorities for the next phase of legislation, which would be the fifth coronavirus bill passed by Congress. 

McConnell and his House counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, have already said they’re not about to support a huge new spending package without priorities including liability protection for employers.

“Senate and House Republicans agree these protections will be absolutely essential to future discussions surrounding recovery legislation,” both said in a joint statement.

Democrats, meanwhile, haven’t embraced that yet, saying they want to make sure that protections for employees are not stripped. They also claim they’re worried that workers will be pushed back into unsafe working conditions if employers believe they are protected from subsequent lawsuits.

That said, McConnell made it plain he’ll not support any new spending package without the employer protections.

“Let me make it perfectly clear, the Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection. … What I’m saying is we have a red line on liability. It won’t pass the Senate without it,” he said.

The tension is already high because Democrats resent McConnell’s call to bring the Senate back into session in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Washington, D.C., is under a ‘stay-at-home’ order until at least May 15.

But McConnell said the chamber can operate “safely” after the Senate’s attending physician sent out a six-page memo to all offices instructing members how to mitigate the risk of contracting the disease.

As for Democrats, Pelosi claims that states are going to need a massive $1 trillion injection of cash in order to balance their budgets, but Cornyn called that a “pretty outrageous number.”

“We’re looking at the states and municipalities and counties and the assistance that we would give them, we’re looking at what are your outlays for the coronavirus and what is your revenue lost because of the coronavirus,” Pelosi said.

Trump, during a Fox News televised town hall event Sunday, said the best economic measure states could take would be to reopen as “safely” and as “quickly” as possible.

“A lot of people want to go back” to work, the president told hosts Brett Baier and Martha McCallum. “You see demonstrations all over the country — and those are meaningful demonstrations. … Now we have to get it open. We have to get it open safely, but we have to get it open as quickly as possible.”

One way to ensure a quicker opening is to get effective coronavirus treatments approved and ready for use.

On that note, the president expressed confidence that the U.S. will develop a vaccine by year’s end.

“I think we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year,” Trump said, adding he was “very confident” in saying so.

“We’ll have a vaccine much sooner rather than later,” he added.

Jon Dougherty

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