Congress prepares for new COVID-19 stimulus push

By Geof Koss | 07/02/2020 07:13 AM EDT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this week. Francis Chung/E&E News

The two sides aren’t talking yet but Capitol Hill is bracing for a frenzied July as bipartisan sentiment is coalescing around enacting more COVID-19 assistance into law before the August recess.

After weeks of political impasse over whether more pandemic relief is needed and when, the House yesterday unanimously approved a six-week extension of the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The speedy approval came one day after the Senate voted to extend the June 30 deadline to Aug. 8 — the day the chamber is scheduled to break until after Labor Day.


"I think the time to focus on this, as I said three months ago and as others have said today, is that period in July, which also I think dovetails nicely with the perfect time to take an assessment of the economy and the progress we’re making on the health care front," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday, making clear he wants to see more aid enacted before the break.

Senate Democrats, looking to pressure the GOP into acting on coronavirus issues now, have been requesting unanimous consent on several proposals. After some negotiations, the PPP extension managed to make it through.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday he has not spoken with any Republican leaders about what comes after the "Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act," a multitrillion-dollar aid package House Democrats passed in May.

"We’ll have to see what we can get through the Senate," he said. "But I think Sen. McConnell needs to move forward because there is obviously a continuing crisis in America both from the health and economic standpoint."

Hoyer said Democrats would call the House back into session after it leaves town at the end of the month should it be necessary to act on a Senate bill.

"It is essential for the health and economic well-being of the American people," Hoyer told reporters.

While the parameters of the upcoming talks are unclear, they’re expected to include more aid for state and local governments, possible extensions of unemployment insurance, more funds for public health response to the pandemic, and additional small business help.

But there’s also certain to be a flurry of new pressure by interest groups and their Hill allies for adding preferred policies to the mix, such as next week’s virtual policy roundtable on creating conservation-oriented jobs planned by Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Dozens of House Democrats yesterday urged leaders to include "transformational" investments in green stimulus, including environmental justice.

"While we must address the immediate pandemic, our country cannot afford inaction on the overlapping jobs and climate crises, both of which continue to exacerbate the ongoing public health crisis," wrote 55 Democrats, led by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.).

That call came the same day as the House passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that would reauthorize federal transportation programs with an eye on reducing emissions, as well as tens of billions of dollars for clean energy and water programs (see related story).

But Republicans continue to dismiss the House Democrats’ sweeping plan, which McConnell called "a multi-thousand-page cousin of the Green New Deal masquerading as a highway bill."