The Senate is leaving for a one-week Memorial Day recess without advancing any new coronavirus stimulus measures.
While the House approved a $3 trillion round of stimulus last week, Senate Republicans dismissed the legislation and have yet to offer any alternative of their own. The recess, which was previously scheduled, comes as top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy question the urgency of additional funding and raise concerns about the national debt.
“I don’t see the need right now,” McCarthy told CNN on Tuesday. McConnell was more circumspect, but similarly hesitant. “We’ll discuss a way forward in the next couple weeks,” he said the same day.
Their stances reflect those of many Republicans — though the party is somewhat split — even as the economic fallout from the coronavirus only continues to get worse: As of this week, more than 38 million US workers have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic.
“This is the biggest shock we’ve seen in living memory, and the question looms in the air of, ‘Is it enough?’” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned about current recovery efforts at a Senate hearing May 19.
Some Republicans, however, appear content to wait and see how existing aid and other economic indicators play out. “Before we rush out and do another spending bill, we should actually let some of this stuff go to work,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said during the hearing.
Some Republicans are trying to press pause on new bills
A slew of Republican lawmakers are currently trying to hit the brakes on new stimulus bills while workers and businesses continue to suffer from severe financial strain. The degree of economic fallout thus far has been evident: Demand at food banks has skyrocketed in the last few months, more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently shuttered, and companies in a range of industries continue to impose layoffs.
States and cities haven’t received additional federal aid since the CARES Act, even as they face cuts to vital programs while revenues from sales and income taxes plummet.
Republicans say their reluctance to approve more legislation stems from the desire to see how previously approved aid continues to work. “The problem is, we don’t even have all the money out the door yet,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico.
While some programs are still in the process of being implemented — like a bailout fund for medium-sized businesses run by the Federal Reserve — others, like an expansion of the unemployment insurance program, are already fully underway. And the need for more support is pressing: The expanded pandemic unemployment insurance is due to sunset at the end of July, for example.
Some GOP members are pushing for more, though there’s no clear consensus yet on what that looks like, CNN reported. In one case, Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have backed a federal paycheck guarantee plan, while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has released a proposal aimed at providing hazard pay to frontline workers. Lawmakers like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Roger Wicker (R-MS), meanwhile, have also expressed interest in another bill that would include infrastructure spending.
What comes next
Although Republicans are reluctant to move quickly on new stimulus efforts, even McConnell has previously conceded that more money for cities and states likely needs to be approved. So even though lawmakers are leaving the Capitol this week without having made much progress, the expectation is that an additional measure could still happen down the line.
McConnell’s chief priority for that bill has so far been the inclusion of liability protections for businesses that could be sued by customers and employees in the wake of the pandemic. Blunt told CNN that the Senate could “optimistically” advance another bill before July 4 — more than a month away.
In the near term, the upper chamber is set to be out for recess all of next week, returning on Monday, June 1. And until Republicans commit to meaningful negotiations with Democrats on the next package, the country is in economic limbo.