Before President Donald Trump’s signature on one of the largest economic aid packages in U.S. history is even dry, the battle lines for the next possible Covid-19 relief deal in the new year are being drawn.
For Democrats, at the top of the list is billions in no-strings-attached aid to state and local governments struggling with revenue shortfalls amid the pandemic. They’re also eyeing additional funding for testing and vaccines, as well as larger stimulus checks and targeted help for restaurants and renters.
Republicans, on the other hand, are renewing their push for Covid-related liability protections for employers.
The $900 billion package, signed by Trump on Sunday night after it was passed along with a $1.4 trillion government funding bill, was the result of more than seven months of negotiations. It provides expanded jobless benefits, rental assistance, direct payments, money for schools, child care, testing, vaccine distribution, businesses, broadband expansion and transportation and extends an existing eviction moratorium through the end of next month.
Major players on both sides of the aisle have already made clear that the package is unlikely to be the final phase of Covid-19 relief. Pelosi called the bill “a first step” while President-elect Joe Biden said it was “an important down payment on what’s going to have to be done beginning the end of January into February.”
Last week, Biden called for more stimulus checks, money to state and local governments, additional funding for testing and vaccine distribution and another extension of expanded unemployment benefits, which will begin to expire in March.
“Congress did its job” in passing the measure, he said. “It can and must do it again next year.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a floor speech ahead of the final vote that future legislation must contain direct aid to state and local governments, as well as larger stimulus checks. He also floated reviving the “Restaurants Act,” bipartisan legislation that would provide grants to bar and restaurant owners with annual revenues of less than $1.5 million.
The $900 billion aid bill “is certainly not the end of the story,” Schumer said, “and it cannot be the end of the story. Anyone who thinks this bill is enough doesn’t know what’s going on in America.”
Pointing to the rental crisis, former President Barack Obama tweeted: “It’s unconscionable that there are families worried over the holidays that they’ll be evicted next month.”
“Extending the eviction moratorium was a start,” he added, “but Congress has to do more to help folks who can’t pay rent because of COVID-related unemployment.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stressed that liability protections are “really important.”
“And if there is another coronavirus relief bill after the first of the year, I’m going to insist a liability protection for these universities and health care providers is a part of it,” he said recently on Fox News.
The liability protection clause and the state and local aid were among the biggest sticking points during recent negotiations and setting them aside for now smoothed the way for the bill’s passage. Leaders from both parties are likely to encounter strong opposition if they attempt to revive those measures.
Democratic lawmakers echoed Schumer in saying the bill would not be the last. Much depends on the results of the Jan. 5 Senate runoff races in Georgia, where Democrats could gain control of the Senate if the two Democratic candidates prevail.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., tweeted she is “ready to restart bipartisan negotiations in the next Congress w/lawmakers & the Biden administration to deliver a stimulus bill that addresses the long-term needs of our recovery, including aid for state & local governments.” Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., tweeted he wished the latest package was “larger and had been passed months ago but this will help bridge us to the Biden Administration.” And Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., tweeted that while “this bill is not ideal … it will provide some much-needed relief to the American people until we can pass a more robust stimulus under the Biden Administration.”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., has suggested a future stimulus package could be part of a larger, bipartisan infrastructure deal.
“Everything that we have done up to this point has not been stimulus, it’s been relief,” Fitzpatrick, a GOP moderate, said on CNBC. “We do need a stimulus bill. There’s no question about it.”
“I think with all this talk about creating jobs and injecting some type of stimulus — not relief but stimulus — infrastructure and transportation legislation is the way to go,” he added. “The question is how we’re going to finance it. And that’s going to be the debate.”
In an interview with the conservative commentator Scott Jennings, McConnell expressed a willingness to play ball on such spending, adding, “We still have to figure out how to pay for it.”
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told MSNBC last week that liability reform and emergency funding to state and local governments need to be a part of the next deal.
“But the good news is,” he said, “with the vaccine being distributed, we’re getting closer to getting Covid-19 into history books, and that is the ultimate solution we need to focus on, in my opinion, going forward.”