Next Round of COVID-19 Response Legislation a Moving Target

April 10, 2020

Most Washington policymakers know a fourth pandemic relief bill is inevitable—but the timing and contents of the next round of stimulus is completely up in the air. 

Phase 3.5?  In a 40-minute, pro forma session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) moved Thursday to increase money available to small businesses by $250 billion.  Maryland Democratic Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen objected and countered with the addition of more funding for health care, state and local government, and supplemental nutrition programs.  McConnell objected and the result was nothing.   

When will they return?  Congress isn’t scheduled to return to DC before April 20 and that date seems optimistic given the rolling peaks of the virus projected for different regions.  Waiting until May to take further action may also be untenable.  Thus a “3.5” bill may not be dead yet. 

Moving forward framework:  Several House committees including Financial Services, Transportation and Infrastructure, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce have released their plans for a next round.   

A Democratic infrastructure bill outline includes stronger worker protections, greener mandates, fuel emissions and fossil fuel requirements, and carbon reductions. 

A House Financial Services committee report includes many ideas Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and other Democrats have long sought.  In a next bill, they would like a universal basic income, student loan forgiveness, stricter rules on stock buybacks, more human capital and governance disclosures, and worker representation on corporate boards. 

Outlook:  Passing legislation without members of Congress in the Capitol requires the unanimous support of all lawmakers.  This week, we saw that is going to be very difficult.  Most members don’t want to travel back to Washington now or in late April when Congress is scheduled to reconvene, so both parties are going to charge the other with obstructionism and hope to fire up public opinion to their side.