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Pelosi Looks for Leverage on Next Coronavirus Bill

Yuval Rosenberg

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing ahead on the next round of coronavirus legislation, aiming to pull together a sweeping aid package that could top $800 billion or $1 trillion, according to various reports.

House Democratic leaders are hoping to finalize the bill by the end of the week, with Pelosi urging her members to “think big,” according to Politico. The package could be ready for a House vote as soon as next week.

Yet even as Pelosi and House Democrats look to fast forward on the next phase of coronavirus relief, President Trump and top Republicans insist it’s time to press pause before considering additional coronavirus spending measures.

"I think I can speak for our conference by saying we're not ruling that out but we think we ought to take a pause here, do a good job of evaluating what we've already done," McConnell told reporters Tuesday about a fifth coronavirus bill, according to The Hill. "The Senate Republican majority and the president of the United States are not irrelevant to the process, so we're going to keep talking to each other and decide to act when and if it's appropriate to act again.”

The Senate returned to the Capitol this week and is expected to stay in session until its Memorial Day recess, but its immediate focus will be on considering Trump nominees, not legislation to address the pandemic.

The Democratic strategy: On a Monday afternoon call with members, “Pelosi and her deputies sketched the outline of a trillion-dollar-plus package that would deliver aid to state and local governments — some on the brink of public service cuts — while shoring up safety-net programs for the nation’s most vulnerable,” Politico’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris report. Democrats are also focused on providing funding for more robust testing and are expected to propose another round of direct payments to individuals and further extending unemployment insurance. Pelosi reportedly also talked about a “paycheck guarantee” for those who have lost their jobs.

But beyond the specifics of any legislative proposals, the rush to produce a bill is about gaining some leverage in future negotiations with Trump and Senate Republicans. “Democrats privately admit the expansive legislation is more of a policy wishlist than anything — much like a draft proposal Pelosi released in March — but say they hope to move before the Senate crafts legislation, laying down the starting point for bipartisan negotiations,” Caygle and Ferris write.

The GOP strategy: Republicans are also jockeying for leverage. “By reconvening this week, Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities,” Lisa Mascaro of the Associated Press writes. “They’re reluctant to unleash federal funds beyond the nearly $3 trillion Congress already approved in virus relief and hope Trump’s push to re-open will reduce the need for more aid.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday declined to back Trump’s call for a payroll tax cut, though he did signal an interest in ramping up testing and reiterated that any new package must protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, an idea Democrats have dismissed.

“I’m not ruling in or ruling out anything, except to say that if there is another bill that passes in the Senate, it will include the liability protections,” McConnell told reporters. He said Senate Republicans are “working on a narrowly crafted liability protection” that “will not protect somebody from gross negligence.”

Signs of hope: Some GOP lawmakers have expressed openness to providing additional aid for state and local governments in exchange for business liability protections, Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan report, adding that Pelosi “has indicated at least partial agreement” with McConnell that state aid should be focused on the effects and costs of the pandemic.

The bottom line: It hasn’t changed. The next coronavirus package is likely to take weeks.

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