Congress Looks Ahead to Phases IV and V COVID-19 Relief Packages

March 27, 2020

The ink is barely dry on the phase III COVID-19 relief legislation, expected to be signed by President Trump soon, yet both parties are already jockeying to shape a fourth and possibly fifth bill likely to include labor and employment regulations.

Corrections needed:  At a minimum, the legislation that has already passed will need technical fixes and the cleaning up of drafting errors and glitches that come when writing legislation on the fly at 2:00 a.m.

More to come:  While the phase III bill has been called a stimulus, each is more of an immediate relief bill.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the third bill “mitigation.”  Stimulus is yet to come. 

Planting a flag:  Speaker Pelosi signaled her preferences by releasing a massive, encyclopedic bill Tuesday.  The Speaker’s bill was advertised as an alternative to the just-approved CARES Act/phase III.  However, she knew it had little chance this round (notwithstanding, some of her non-germane funding items—such as $25 million for the Kennedy Center and election security funding—were included in the CARES Act at the 11th hour).

However, she recognized her bill can be a starting point for phase IV legislation, which will likely include union protections, federal mandates to vote by mail, funding for sanctuary cities, corporate board diversity requirements and expansion of refundable tax credits.  In short, the Speaker laid down a marker with some policies around the pandemic and other long-sought Democratic goals. 

Republicans are split:  Many Republicans understand more legislation will be needed.  Others, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), would like to wait and see how the three laws enacted to date affect families and the economy. 

The question is: when and how will subsequent bills be developed and passed?  House members are in their districts and the Senate is adjourned until April 20. 

Outlook:  Some leaders, chairmen, and the staff are in Washington.  The Speaker and the Senate Majority Leaders have both reserved the right to call rank-and-file members back to the Capitol.  But limited flights, self-quarantines, and some states' stay-at-home orders make that improbable.  Ideas can be vetted remotely.  But a subsequent bill is likely to be hammered out by the “four corners”—Speaker Pelosi, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Senate leaders Mitch McConnel (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).  We can assume Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will also have some say in the matter.