Congress weighs another round of stimulus in face of coronavirus outbreak

The Capitol is seen as House lawmakers prepare to debate emergency coronavirus response legislation on Capitol Hill, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Washington • Pump billions into rebuilding roads and bridges, fixing sewer systems and adding mass transit.

Repeal limits on deducting state and local taxes on your federal income tax forms.

Or, wait, and do nothing — for now.

After passing three rounds of relief measures to help boost the traumatized American economy, aid the health care response and strengthen a safety net for displaced workers amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Congress is now wondering what next steps may be needed.

A “phase four” stimulus bill under discussion could be targeted at local businesses and unemployed workers or consist of a flood of hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at fixing crumbling freeways. Special interests are already seeking federal money while political leaders are looking at pet projects, all in the name of offering a lifeline as recession worries grow.

“It’s really hard for me to predict what the next package might look like and whether there’s going to be a next package,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who added, “But, you know, we’ll see just how long this this crisis continues.”

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signaled his renewed interest in using the federal funding flow on public works projects across the country, an idea pushed by his administration early on that got repeatedly bogged down or sidetracked.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” the president tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pitching the idea of rolling back a limit on state and local tax deductions that became law as part of the 2017 tax reform effort. That move could hike tax refunds to some 13 million households, according to The New York Times, and doing so retroactively could allow taxpayers to redo their filings in 2018 and 2019.

They’d have more disposable income, which is the lifeblood of our economy, a consumer economy that we are,” Pelosi told The Times.

Romney — who was the first Republican to push the idea of a direct payment to most Americans which later became law in the $2.2 trillion relief package Congress passed last week — says there may be a need for legislation to clean up any unintended consequences that are likely to surface with such quickly passed legislation. Beyond that, there are many ways the government could step in.

“If this goes on for a longer period of time, why there will be the need for additional funding to maintain employment in small businesses and to maintain employment at large businesses, as well as to fill the coffers in the unemployment insurance pool,” Romney said last week.

“You know, time will tell,” the Utah senator added. “Some of the money going to states, for instance — about $150 billion going to states, cities, towns — that money would also have to be added to if this dragged on.”

Rep. Ben McAdams, who spent more than a week in the hospital after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, says Congress may have to do more soon to build up supplies for hospitals as well as tests to find out how widespread the virus may actually be.

“I think we need to continue to make sure that testing is available, that we are doing everything we can to have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment,” McAdams said in an interview.

McAdams says that should extend to testing those who have had COVID-19 to see if they have antibodies that could be used against the infection in the first place.

“If we want to get the economy back up and going as quickly as possible, knowing who may have had it and were asymptomatic is important so that they can get back to work and supporting their families,” said the Utah Democrat.

“I think we're going to have to see, you know, what parts of our society was hit hardest and where we're going to need to focus the things for relief in order to ensure that families are able to continue to put food on the table and and provide for themselves,” McAdams said.

After passing the $2.2 trillion relief bill, though, there are members of Congress who aren't ready yet to jump on another massive piece of legislation that would add to the debt.

Some, like Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, say Congress may need to fix some of the last relief package before adding to the pile.

“I know that a bill put together this quickly is going to miss people and have some problems,” Curtis said. “And so I would be supportive of any fine-tuning or any filling holes that we intended to fill but missed. I’d be a little bit leery of another massive injection of money, unless we’ve had more data and more time for this to play out.”

The Utah congressman says hitting the pause button may allow Congress to know what's really needed rather than throwing money at the wall, hoping it helps.

“I’d be fine moving forward improving this but I’d be careful in talking about doing a whole lot more about anything significant,” Curtis added.