Washington • There’s widespread, bipartisan support in Congress for another round of money to help individual Americans, businesses, schools and others hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
What that help may look like, though, is still unclear.
Congress has already pushed through four rounds of legislation aimed at combatting the virus, aiding hospitals, saving businesses and propping up the unemployed, though more money may be needed as the outbreak continues to kill hundreds — and sometimes thousands — a week and take a toll on the economy.
“While we are seeing positive trends in our economy, it’s clear that Americans who lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic still need assistance,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
The White House, GOP-led Senate and Democrat-led House still appear far apart on what actions should be taken, though with a boost to unemployment benefits expiring soon and businesses still struggling — not to mention sustained increases in coronavirus cases in multiple states — Washington is eyeing a quick turnaround with another bill.
Stewart says his focus is on not adding more to the national debt, which has soared during the pandemic, but noted that if there’s another round passed by Congress “any additional relief must directly target individuals and small businesses while increasing government accountability and transparency on all spending.”
Senior White House aides have spent time on Capitol Hill this week discussing options, which range from President Donald Trump's push for a payroll tax cut to Democrats' call for more money for hospitals and state and local governments whose budgets have been tanked by the outbreak.
Rep. John Curtis, a Utah Republican and former mayor of Provo, says he’s not sure Congress should bail out states and cities because he believes that would hurt fiscally prudent governments while rewarding those who were badly managed.
“That’s one of the very difficult things in legislating from Washington is coming up with legislation that deals with the uniqueness of each different county, of each school district,” Curtis said.
First on Curtis' wish list is carving out protections for businesses so they can't be sued because someone got sick even if they were prudent in following health guidelines.
“We need to get some protections so they can get people back to work,” Curtis said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s holding us back right now.”
Congress has a short window to pass a measure before it adjourns for August recess; the House leaves town on July 31.
That’s also the time when a $600-a-week boost to unemployment benefits expires, a point that Democrats say will hurt those in need while Republicans say it has been an obstacle to reopening businesses because workers would rather stay home and cash a check.
“I know in my district, in my experience, that has been a real impediment to a recovery,” Curtis said. “I hear from businesses everywhere I go that they can’t get people to come back to work because of that extra $600.”
Democrats see it differently, arguing that the GOP plan is more focused on business than people.
“From all indications, the bill will prioritize corporate special interests over workers and main street businesses,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It won’t provide hazard pay for essential workers. It won’t provide new funding to state, local, and tribal governments, or enough investments in communities of color that have been ravaged by the virus.”
Moreover, Schumer noted the idea of a payroll tax cut would do nothing for the 20 million to 30 million Americans out of work.
“What about Americans who remain unemployed and actually need the help?” Schumer said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told KSL on Tuesday that he would back a smaller enhancement of unemployment benefits but not at the $600 level.
And he believes any aid should be more targeted, decrying problems that plagued the Paycheck Protection Act, mainly large businesses with fat savings accounts receiving hundreds of millions of taxpayer funding.
“I’ve heard of everything from law firms to other businesses that actually had their business go up still receive money from the PPP program, and that’s simply not right,” Romney told KSL.
The Utah senator was one of the first proponents of a $1,200 check to most Americans to help during the economic downturn but said that he doesn’t see an appetite for another one.
“I think most of the Republicans in the Senate and in the House are not enthusiastic about another check of that nature,” Romney told the news station.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he's not excited about another round of federal money, though if there is a bill, it should be carefully tailored.
“With states reopening, it’s not clear that we need to borrow another trillion dollars now,” Lee said in a statement. If there is another round of funding, Lee added, “I would like any additional spending delivered directly to families, rather than to politicians or government bureaucracies.”
There are several members of Congress who simply don’t want to dole out more money.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walked out of a Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday and blasted his colleagues for talking about a $1 trillion bill.
“Everything they ever said about President Obama they are” doing themselves, Paul said, according to CNN. “This is insane; they are ruining the country.”