Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the room would adjourn for almost a month after it passed a historically huge $2 trillion coronavirus relief package late Wednesday night.
However, since the epidemic requires a toll on American health and fiscal well-being, the unprecedented crisis may force Congress to act sooner than the Senate’s planned return date of April 20. McConnell acknowledged the reality Wednesday night, promising the room would remain “nimble” as the pandemic spreads.
“If conditions require the Senate to go back for a vote sooner than April that the 20th, we shall supply at least 24 hours of notice,” he said.
The laws provides one-time payments for people, improved unemployment insurance and grants and loans for companies small and large. Additionally, it allocates more funds for hospitals, states and municipalities, and requires insurance companies to cover coronavirus preventative services without a cost-sharing.
Regardless of the amount of money piled into combating the crisis, unseen before in U.S. history, congressional leaders predict Congress will have to take more measures to fight the outbreak as it shows few signs of abating soon.
“I think the odds are we will need new legislation, more legislation after this,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said following the vote. “First, we don’t know the extent of the crisis in terms of the magnitude, so that could rise, but there are going to be problems that we don’t realize now that we are going to have to grapple with.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed the sentiment Thursday morning as she summarized other priorities she’d like to see addressed, such as enlarged paid family and medical leave, more money for states, more food assistance funding and another potential round of direct payments. Responding to the Senate’s plans to leave until April 20, she told reporters, “I think everybody has to be on call for what we need when we need it, and we don’t know what that might be.”
Data published Thursday shed light on the early financial wreckage left by COVID-19 as companies throughout the nation shutter to slow its spread. Initial jobless claims skyrocketed a week to a record 3.3 million, over four times the maximum mark previously seen in 1982.
Talking to CNBC by telephone Thursday morning, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the $2 trillion package will “hopefully” buoy the market for 90 days.
“And when I say hopefully and it turns out in 90 days not to be as hopeful as we thought, we’ll be back here trying to tackle the same thing again,” he explained.
The outbreak has forced Congress into thorny decisions. Coronavirus has made a desperate need for government intervention hidden in decades. At exactly the exact same time, the lawmakers crafting the aid have begun to test positive for COVID-19, forcing a few of their coworkers into isolation to slow its spread.
Many House members are away from the Capitol following two agents tested positive for COVID-19 and various other agents who had contact with them went into quarantine. The chamber plans to pass the $2 trillion bill by voice vote Friday morning.
Still, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote to colleagues Wednesday night that agents “who want to come to the House Floor to debate this bill will be able to do so.”
On the Senate side, Schumer acknowledged the uncertainty in establishing an agenda for being in Washington. He explained determining when to return to the Capitol is “not even up to Leader McConnell or Leader Schumer, it is up to the medical experts and how long this disease goes on.”
“It is how deep the coronavirus spreads that will determine when we will come back. And if we can’t come back for a long time, I think we should explore as Senator Klobuchar, and Durbin and Wyden and Warren are doing a way to vote remotely only in an emergency situation,” he explained.
Lawmakers in both parties and both chambers have pushed for remote voting as the crisis spreads. Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat and among the most vocal supporters of conducting business from outside the Capitol throughout the outbreak, said Wednesday that she had been in quarantine while anticipating a coronavirus test outcome.
The House Rules Committee published a report this week outlining “serious” challenges with remote voting. The panel’s team said it might have a very long time to prepare the procedure, adding a remote system could be vulnerable to cyberattacks or face court challenges.