Pelosi urges Congress to ‘go big’ on next virus aid package

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is poised to unveil the next coronavirus aid package, encouraging Congress to “go big” on aid to help cash-strapped states and struggling Americans. Voting is possible as soon as Friday.

But the bill is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans said Monday they are not planning to vote on any new relief until June. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there is no “urgency” to act.

“Let’s get on with it,” Pelosi said Monday night on MSNBC.

“To those who would suggest a pause, I would say the hunger doesn’t take a pause, the rent doesn’t take a pause,” she said. “We have a big need. It’s monumental.”

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The new package, the fifth since March, is expected to carry another eye-popping price tag. President Donald Trump has signed into law nearly $3 trillion in aid approved by Congress.

Its centerpiece is likely to be money to states and cities that are struggling to avoid layoffs in the face of skyrocketing health care costs and plummeting tax receipts during the economic shutdown. There will money for virus testing and another round of direct cash payments and unemployment benefits for Americans, Pelosi said. She has not disclosed the cost.

On a conference call with House colleagues Monday, Pelosi urged them to “go big,” according to person unauthorized to discuss the private caucus call and granted anonymity.

With the Capitol still partly closed, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told lawmakers on the call there would be 72-hour notice before returning to Washington for the vote, which could come Friday, the person said.

But Senate Republicans are in no rush to spend what could be trillions more on aid.

“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol.

McConnell said he has been in close contact with the White House, assessing the aid Congress has already approved in response to the virus outbreak and next steps.

The White House convened a call with Senate Republicans earlier Monday, senators and aides said. “If we decide to go forward, we’ll go forward together,” McConnell said. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for health care providers and businesses that are reopening.

Senate Republicans are not expected to act on any further aid until after the Memorial Day recess, according to a senior Republican aide unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.

The Senate is set to recess at the end of next week for a previously scheduled break, with senators scheduled to return June 1.

The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due the the health concerns.

Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.

At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.

“It should be big and it should be bold,” Schumer said Monday.

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