By Andrew Duehren and Kristina Peterson
WASHINGTON -- Congress moved fast. The coronavirus crisis moved
After quickly passing a $2.2 trillion aid package designed to
tide over American households and businesses until the worst of the
pandemic had passed, Republicans and Democrats were hoping to start
working on a stimulus package to rebuild the economy, potentially
including long-sought infrastructure spending and tax cuts.
Instead, less than two weeks since President Trump signed the
bill, lawmakers find themselves racing to shore up the relief
measures already in law, rather than formulating new ones.
"I don't think anyone two weeks ago imagined that we would need
to move so quickly to augment" the last package, said Rep. Jared
Huffman (D., Calif.). "Everyone assumed we would be moving on to
the broader economic package, including infrastructure. But this
crisis is just a lot more acute than we previously imagined."
The shift in legislative targets underscores the challenge
Congress has faced trying to keep up with the twin public health
and economic crises, which have only continued to deepen as the
number of people in the U.S. who have tested positive for the virus
nears 400,000 and stay-at-home orders have crippled businesses
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Tuesday he
wants the Senate to approve additional assistance for small
businesses this week in response to the Trump administration's
request for $251 billion more for the program, aimed to keep
workers on payrolls. That set a rapid timeline that will require an
agreement with Senate Democrats. Mr. McConnell had previously
cautioned against taking any immediate additional legislative
action, calling on lawmakers to wait and see how the bill, dubbed
the CARES Act, turned out.
"Even as the CARES Act continues to come online, one such need
is already clear: The small-business Paycheck Protection Program
needs more funding," Mr. McConnell said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority
Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Wednesday that assistance to
small businesses must also include an additional $100 billion for
health care providers, $150 billion for state and local
governments, and increased food assistance benefits. The top
Democrats on Capitol Hill said that a bill this week must still be
followed by an additional round of relief legislation dubbed CARES
"After we pass this interim emergency legislation, Congress will
move to pass a CARES 2 Act that will extend and expand the
bipartisan CARES Act to meet the needs of the American people," the
Mr. McConnell said he wanted to hold a Senate vote this week on
expanded small business aid and then send it to the House, but the
parties' differing stances could muddle the timing for passage.
Also, both chambers need to keep lawmakers in line, as they are
aiming to pass the legislation without requiring in-person roll
call votes, as Congress is currently in recess.
Last week, Mrs. Pelosi had held a number of conference calls
with House Democrats looking at various new initiatives, including
infrastructure and housing assistance, for the next bill. Mr. Trump
had also lent his support to tackling a major infrastructure
package as part of the next set of legislation.
But House Democrats are now juggling two bills both aimed at
bolstering elements of the last package. Mrs. Pelosi told House
Democrats on Monday that a CARES 2 bill could run to more than $1
trillion and would provide an additional round of direct payments,
further bolster unemployment benefits, and assist first
For a Congress divided between a Democratic-controlled House and
GOP-led Senate, the legislative response has been unusually quick.
The $2.2 trillion package was the third in a series of bills aimed
at responding to the coronavirus crisis Congress passed in March
alone, each several times as large as the last. The first was an
$8.3 billion bill that funded efforts to find a vaccine to the new
disease, and the second provided more than $100 billion in further
relief efforts, including expanding paid leave.
For a disease that has forced a large part of the U.S. economy
to shut down, that pace hasn't been fast enough. Former Federal
Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen warned House Democrats on Monday
that initial weekly unemployment claims, which totaled a
record-shattering 10 million in the past two readings, will only
continue to grow.
"The circumstances are just overtaking us here in terms of the
depth and scope of the economic fallout of this public health
crisis," said Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who has been pushing a
plan to restore workers' paychecks by having the government cover
80% of employers' payroll costs at all firms affected by the
crisis, up to median wages, and provide incentives for rehiring
workers laid off last month.
House Democrats have been eyeing releasing a CARES 2 bill next
week, according to people familiar with the efforts, and voting on
it after April 20. The current small business program is aimed at
helping firms cover payroll and other essential expenses for
roughly two months, and lawmakers had been looking at providing
support for a longer period.
Mrs. Pelosi is likely to face pressure from House Democrats'
left wing to fight for other measures, including direct assistance
to a broader range of people, expanded health care coverage and
funding for voting by mail in November. Mr. Schumer (D., N.Y.) said
Senate Democrats would push for the next bill to include increased
pay for essential workers, a broad category that would include
health care workers, grocery store clerks and transit employees,
Whether those measures would be enough is uncertain.
"It's hard to prescribe the appropriate amount of resources to
address the financial crisis when the health crisis is very much
blazing," Rep. Andy Kim (D., N.J.), a member of the House Small
Business Committee. "In the absence of clarity on the health side
we're constantly just trying to fill a hole that keeps getting
Even after the next relief package or packages, lawmakers still
anticipate they will turn to a broad stimulus bill that would
include elements like infrastructure investments.
"You're going to have a need for far more than what is done,"
Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) said. "What we've done is a good
start, it claws us back to the starting line, by no means does it
get to where we were."
--Natalie Andrews contributed to this article.
Write to Andrew Duehren at email@example.com and Kristina
Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 08, 2020 11:07 ET (15:07 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.