Republican lawmakers in the United States signalled caution on Tuesday over Democratic plans to prepare another large stimulus bill to battle the coronavirus crisis, even as President Donald Trump called for $2 trillion in spending – this time on infrastructure.
Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress needs to take up a fourth coronavirus-related bill to focus on recovery in the aftermath of the outbreak. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, urged a “wait-and-see” approach.
Trump took to Twitter to urge Congress to pass a massive $2 trillion plan to update the country’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure, a goal he has often espoused but never accomplished.
“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill. It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4,” Trump tweeted.
Trump signed into law on Friday a $2.2 trillion package aimed at helping workers and businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. It was the third bill that Congress has passed this month to address the outbreak.
US coronavirus-related deaths reached 3,810 on Tuesday, exceeding the total number reported in China and reaching the third-highest in the world behind Italy and Spain, according to Johns Hopkins University.
House Democrats are developing a “phase four” measure including improvements to infrastructure, such as telecommunications, electricity and water systems. Pelosi has noted the generally bipartisan appeal of infrastructure spending.
Water systems and broadband
Pelosi, on MSNBC, said a phase four bill would include provisions “specific to the coronavirus challenge and that would be to do infrastructure for water systems that are so essential, [and] broadband because so many people are relying on telecommunication and social media and the rest”.
Trump’s fellow Republicans say Congress should see how the just-enacted “phase three” legislation works out before passing another bill. In any case, Congress is not due to return to Washington until at least April 20.
“The unemployment part of phase three, I’m very worried about … I’m very concerned that it may take six to eight weeks to get an unemployment check,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News on Tuesday.
McConnell warned that the US Treasury is “wrestling” with tasks under phase three, including sending cheques to individuals and providing loans to small businesses. He expressed scepticism about the House Democrats’ new effort, saying he worried they would try to include unrelated policy items.
“Any kind of bill coming out of the House, I would look at – like Reagan suggested we look at – the Russians: Trust but verify,” McConnell said on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s programme. Both McConnell and Graham spoke before Trump’s tweet on infrastructure spending.
Trump has long talked about repairing infrastructure, and Democrats have also been eager to do so. But Trump once walked out of an infrastructure meeting with Democrats, and efforts to do something have foundered so many times that “infrastructure week” has become a standing joke around Washington.
Before passing the $2.2 trillion package aimed at countering the economic free fall from the coronavirus, Congress approved an $8.3bn package on testing and research, and a $100bn bill addressing paid sick days, unemployment benefits and food aid.
Congress faces a September 30 deadline to reauthorise the highway trust fund, which faces a projected $261bn shortfall over 10 years.