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Dems call for talks on relief bill; GOP holds off

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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Monday to immediately start negotiations on a new coronavirus relief bill.

Their demand comes with cases spiking dramatically in a number of states but little urgency from congressional Republicans and the White House to respond.

“The nation has seen a dramatic surge in both cases and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to that pain, our economy is facing one of its greatest challenges since the Great Depression. Over one-fifth of the workforce has requested unemployment assistance,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell. “Now is the time for action, not continued delays and political posturing.”

Senate Republicans and the White House have been eyeing late July as the time frame for putting together another coronavirus bill, after passing four bills in March and April pumping some $3 trillion into the economy. The Democrat-led House passed another massive relief bill 45 days ago, but Republicans declared it dead on arrival in the Senate and Trump threatened to veto it.

Congress is in session this week, but lawmakers then plan to leave Washington for a two-week recess for the Fourth of July. There are no plans to pass coronavirus legislation before the recess.

In response to the Pelosi-Schumer letter, a McConnell spokesman pointed to comments McConnell made Friday in Kentucky, when he said: “In July, we’ll take a snapshot of where the country stands, see how the jobs are coming back, see where we think we are. And if there’s a final rescue package, that’s when it will develop and it will start, once again, in my office ... the House efforts are simply not practical.

“So we will sit down in July what seems to fit the way forward based on the conditions a few weeks from now,” McConnell said. “One thing I can tell you will certainly be in the bill — it’s not-negotiable liability protection for hospitals, doctors, nurses, businesses, universities, K-12 related to the coronavirus.”

McConnell’s position has been essentially unchanged since April.

Meanwhile, some critical deadlines are approaching when relief measures will expire. Enhanced unemployment benefits passed as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act in March expire July 31. The small-business Paycheck Protection Program will stop accepting new loan applications on Tuesday, even though about $100 billion is left in the program.

“We are outraged that, instead of holding bipartisan, bicameral negotiations during the June work period, you chose to prioritize the confirmation of right-wing judges and several Republican-led committees devoted precious time to chasing President Trump’s wild conspiracy theories,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “The House has acted. It is unacceptable that the Senate would recess without addressing this urgent issue.”

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence held an event in Dallas where he urged Americans to wear face masks and practice social distancing as the United States surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases. Texas, Arizona and Florida have emerged as the new hotspots.

Democrats have been calling for a national testing strategy and also want to send more money to state and local governments, some of which have been forced to lay off employees in droves. Senate Republicans are divided on what to do next, or whether another relief bill is even needed.

“You have 53 different opinions on what to do right now” — the number of Republicans in the Senate — Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters late last week. Braun also argued, “I think the economy is going to surprise us” by rebounding.

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