Contours of next US coronavirus aid bill emerge on Capitol Hill

Trump repeats demand for ‘elimination of sanctuary cities’ as precondition for further stimulus efforts by Congress.

US Retail Giants Shut Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
A worker pulls a trolley loaded with packages on an empty 5th Avenue in New York City. [File: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg] -

The contours of another coronavirus aid package – as well as the partisan squabbling that will precede it – in the United States began to take shape on Tuesday, with Republicans calling for more tax cuts and Democrats demanding help for state and local governments strapped by plunging tax revenues.

President Donald Trump added his own wish-list to the debate, insisting on Twitter that the “elimination of sanctuary cities” and cuts to both payroll and capital gains taxes must be among the policies considered by Congress as it confronts the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

Trump has been battling “sanctuary” cities throughout his administration, withholding grant money from and filing lawsuits against local governments that refuse to give federal immigration authorities access to jails or otherwise decline to participate in federal efforts to enforce immigration rules.

Trump joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in calling for legislation to protect businesses from litigation related to the coronavirus outbreak. Saying that a flood of litigation had already begun in the US, McConnell told reporters that legislators were working on a narrowly crafted liability protection bill that “will not protect somebody from gross negligence”.

Under strict social distancing guidelines, the Senate reconvened Monday for the first time since March, while the House of Representatives is staying away due to the health risks. The Washington, DC area remains a virus hot spot under stay-home rules.

McConnell insisted on Tuesday that any new aid package must include liability protections for the hospitals, healthcare providers and businesses that are operating and reopening during the pandemic. He also signalled an interest in beefed-up virus testing strategies, a key demand from Democrats in the Senate.

“Testing, tracking, treatments,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “Our task ahead will be to keep seeking thoughtful solutions.”

By reconvening this week, Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities. They are reluctant to release federal funds beyond the nearly three trillion dollars Congress already approved in virus relief and hope Trump’s push to reopen will reduce the need for more aid.

For more than five weeks, the COVID-19 crisis has all but closed Congress, a longer absence than during the 1918 Spanish flu.

On the House side, Pelosi on Tuesday outlined her own plans for a sweeping $800bn package expected to be unveiled soon.

Pelosi outlined requests from state governors for $500bn and $300bn from counties and cities, which she has said could be spread out over the next several years. Local governments have said they need the assistance to keep paying nurses, police, firefighters and other front-line workers.

On a private conference call with House Democrats on Monday, Pelosi also discussed a “paycheck guarantee” for the newly jobless.

Several House committee chairmen outlined other possible provisions in the upcoming bill, among them additional direct cash payments for families, extending unemployment insurance, help for homeowners and renters struggling to make rent and mortgage payments, and further funding for virus testing and contact tracing.

Pelosi told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill the new package will be “just very directly related to saving lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy”.

Source: News Agencies