Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Congress Talks Up Fourth Coronavirus Relief Package as Weekly Jobless Claims Exceed 6.5 Million

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Barely a week after passing a $2 trillion CARES Act, the largest ever and without even a recorded vote, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are again worked into a lather for a fourth package. The first three bills have ballooned with wishlist items and relevant agenda goals by Democrats and Republicans alike; big corporations and banks are backstopped by taxpayers and minimum-basic-income concepts have been cemented with expansions to mandatory paid leave and unemployment benefits.

The Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are certainly not letting this crisis go to waste as they press harder on the notion of government expansion in all directions. This fourth effort will perhaps be the most transparent of them all. The president and Republicans, for their part, are steering any fourth phase toward expanding the small business payroll assistance in the CARES Act. President Trump says he’ll request $250 billion more for that program and wants a payroll tax cut, and has also floated a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

While Pelosi maybe pumped to throw together another massive bill stuffed with goodies, the whiplash from the CARES Act may frustrate her efforts as many Republicans are wary of moving again before the CARES Act even has time to be fully implemented and unwittingly serving to advance Pelosi’s thinly veiled policy desires in the process.

To be sure, the economy is suffering the most acute shock since at least WWII. The weekly jobless claims exceeded already sky high estimates, falling in at 6.6 million. That’s on top of the 3.6 million in the same report a week ago. The one-size-fits-all shutdown policies adopted by state and local governments across the country, including here, have decimated economies large and small.

As far as the North Carolina delegation to Congress goes, the perspective falls along predictable partisan lines. Even so, there is plenty of nuance between the members of the Republican majority that we send to Capitol Hill. The Raleigh News & Observer got the views on a fourth coronvirus relief package from our congressional delegation. It’s instructive to see where each of their mind’s are during this whirlwind of rushed, emergency legislation.

From the N&O:

Rep. Ted Budd, Republican from Advance: “We just passed the largest economic aid package in American history. We should analyze how well phase three is working before we leap to more deficit spending in phase four.”

Rep. George Holding, Republican from Raleigh: “Congress just passed three unprecedented aid packages aimed at not only stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but also to provide direct financial assistance to Americans. Any additional relief should build on that – now isn’t the time to play politics.”

Rep. Mark Walker, Republican from Greensboro: “As the situation is rapidly evolving, we will keep monitoring unemployment, the state of the economy, and any additional ways to assist our healthcare workers on the front lines. However, nothing should be considered until all of Congress is back in Washington. That way, you don’t have one party in one chamber making legislation they unilaterally deem urgent.”

Rep. Alma Adams, Democrat from Charlotte: “Absolutely. My office continues to get calls every day from North Carolinians who are out of work, who have never applied for federal benefits before but need help now. It is clear that the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic will persist long after we’re able to leave our homes.”

Rep. David Price, Democrat from Chapel Hill: “Yes, I believe Congress should develop a fourth legislative package in the coming days. The first three bills were focused on our public health response and emergency relief efforts for families and businesses. Weekly unemployment reports and other indicators show that unmet needs continue to grow at an alarming rate every day and our economy is facing the most severe challenges since the Great Depression.”

Rep. Richard Hudson, Republican from Concord: “Our focus at this time should be implementing the $2 trillion package we just passed before we spend any more of our grandkids’ money. Once we have implemented the package and see where the remaining needs are, we should address those concerns through targeted legislation that does not allow Nancy Pelosi to insert unrelated provisions like she tried to do in the CARES Act.”

Rep. Greg Murphy, Republican from Greenville: “Congress just passed the largest spending bill in American history. Two trillion dollars. I believe that was the right thing to do and I voted for it when it passed by voice. Americans are losing their jobs and small businesses are shutting down through no fault of their own. Unfortunately the process was slowed down because some saw this as an opportunity to push an agenda and wanted things in the bill that had nothing to do with this crisis. Is there more work to be done? Surely. Yet I feel it more prudent to see what effect Phase III has had before we dive into more legislation. There may be things we need to fine tune or adjust from Phase III, which is why we need to let it play out for now. Am I open to a fourth phase? Certainly. But the need for another measure will be contingent on either or both of these two variables: the effectiveness of the first three phases and the amount of time the crisis persists. Right now we have no way to predict what the situation on the ground will be in a month or two, so in my view, I don’t think it’s productive to deal with hypotheticals.”

When asked about what MUST be included in any fourth package, if there is one, Republicans largely emphasized any further legislation should be direct, coronavirus-related items. That would include mostly economic aid via payroll tax cuts and aid to small businesses, though there is a pitch for rural broadband internet in there. The Democrats, true to form, favor more of a shotgun approach. As long as their targets of more robust government dependency programs are hit, they are happy.

As far as what SHOULD NOT be in any fourth relief package, the contrast is a bit more clear:

“Murphy: “Programs unrelated to stopping the spread of COVID-19, helping our health care workers or providing financial support for working class Americans should not be included. That means we should continue to exclude things that were on Speaker Pelosi’s liberal wish list she attempted to sneak into Phase III. Items like Green New Deal initiatives, support for union bosses and outlawing voter ID requirements had nothing to do with the crisis and have no place in this particular legislative package.”

Price: “There has been some discussion of a massive payroll tax cut, but it’s clear from our post-2008 recovery that most working people did not receive a noticeable benefit. I think direct payments as initially conceived in the CARES Act — with appropriate income limits and better eligibility criteria — represent a much more potent way to help the people who need it most and ensure this money gets injected back into the economy.”

Adams: “We shouldn’t bail out any companies that aren’t playing by the rules. If a corporation isn’t paying US taxes and is using another country as a tax haven, or if a company is using creative accounting so that they avoid tax liability, I don’t think we are under any obligation there. Giving the signal that we will bail you out even if you break all the rules is the definition of moral hazard.”

Budd: “We shouldn’t include anything in an emergency bill that doesn’t directly deal with the emergency.” […]”

It’s good to see some fight, at least rhetorically, against the notion of letting the Left or special interests stuff these bills with corporate bail outs and Democrats’ wish list of programs. In reality, however, the end products, we’ve witnessed, are usually complete with both; the wholly justified portions have merely served to incite compromise on the very ‘off limits’ items mentioned above.

President Trump’s is also starting to advocate a massive infrastructure spending bill, arguing we could take advantage of low interest rates to repair our nation’s ailing infrastructure and stimulate the economy to boot. Infrastructure super-packages have been just beyond the horizon since Trump got elected, but what to pour lawmakers think about using the fourth iteration coronavirus legislation to do that? Read more from the N.C. delegation here.

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