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Dems, GOP Divided Over Rescue Bill     04/03 06:13

   Fresh data on Thursday that detailed a record avalanche of unemployment 
claims offered no signs of easing the rift between Democrats and Republicans 
over the need for new legislation financing infrastructure and other 
job-creation programs.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fresh data on Thursday that detailed a record avalanche 
of unemployment claims offered no signs of easing the rift between Democrats 
and Republicans over the need for new legislation financing infrastructure and 
other job-creation programs.

   With the coronavirus barreling across the country and sending the economy 
into a deep freeze, the report that 6.6 million people filed for jobless 
benefits last week made congressional action "even more critical," House 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. The jaw-dropping figure doubled 
last week's record, which itself quadrupled the previous mark.

   But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky 
Republican had nothing to add to his comments earlier this week that it's not 
time for Congress to rush ahead. 

   McConnell has told interviewers that lawmakers should first assess the 
effectiveness of the $2.2 trillion rescue package enacted last week, and has 
warned Pelosi against pushing environmental requirements and other Democratic 
priorities. He suggested to The Washington Post that the next bill should be 
"credibly paid for," after last week's massive measure was financed by adding 
more borrowing to a national debt that's already $21 trillion. 

   A growing but still inconsistent national effort to starve the virus by 
ordering Americans to stay at home, which has snuffed out jobs and businesses, 
has led President Donald Trump to propose has a $2 trillion infrastructure 
package, though without detail. 

   Talk in the White House has percolated about the inevitability of another 
big stimulus package. But as of Thursday morning, there was no immediate plan 
to urgently push for a proposal or signal to McConnell to bring the Senate back 
to Washington, according to two administration officials who were not 
authorized to describe the discussions publicly and spoke on condition of 
anonymity.

   Other Republicans expressed similar skepticism. 

   "I'm not opposed to infrastructure. What I'm opposed to is using a crisis to 
restructure government," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. He 
said before writing more bailout legislation, "We've got to make sure this is 
implemented correctly."

   "First things, let's put out the fire," said Sen. John Cornyn, a senior 
Republican from Texas, who said focus was needed on efficiently spending the 
already approved $2.2 trillion. "Then we can then we can think more carefully 
and deliberately about rebuilding the infrastructure."

   Trump himself lashed out Thursday at Pelosi's creation of a bipartisan House 
select committee on the coronavirus as a "witch hunt" and "ridiculous" and 
predicted it would ultimately help build up his poll numbers. "I want to remind 
everyone here in our nation's capital, especially in Congress, that this is not 
the time for politics, endless partisan investigations," Trump said.

   The president also slammed Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer after the 
New York lawmaker criticized the administration's response to the pandemic. In 
a blistering letter, Trump told Schumer that if he had spent less time on the 
"ridiculous impeachment hoax," New York "would not have been so completely 
unprepared" for the outbreak.

   House Democrats are crafting a bill that Pelosi says is roughly the same 
size as Trump's $2 trillion. It would finance road, water and broadband 
projects, expand unemployment benefits and funnel money to state and local 
governments and hospitals. 

   With lawmakers at home and not expected to return to Washington until late 
this month at best, there was virtually no prospect that Congress could act 
soon. Even so, Pelosi has been setting markers for what Democrats want the next 
measure to contain, and she said Thursday that the House will move ahead, 
regardless of what the GOP-controlled Senate does. 

   All but daring McConnell to take no action, she added, "It's obvious what is 
necessary to be done. To ignore it is to ignore the fact that the virus crisis 
is raging, that we can do something about it to rein it in, but it takes 
resources."

   Pelosi said she wants the next bill to extend the extra $600 weekly payments 
above existing state levels that last week's legislation is providing. That 
extra amount is due to last four months. 

   She also wants the plan to contain more money for food stamps and for states 
to administer the growing numbers of unemployment applicants, plus some kind of 
protections for renters.

   State and local governments are being hit with a double-whammy: reduced 
revenues caused by the pandemic's economic havoc and additional costs of 
fighting it. They received a total of $150 billion in last week's bill, along 
with added federal payments for state Medicaid budgets, but advocates for 
states and cities say it won't be sufficient. 

   States are required to balance their budgets and many governors are staring 
down enormous fiscal gaps. New York, for instance, could be staring at a $9 
billion to $15 billion shortfall, according to the state budget director, while 
smaller states such as Oklahoma are estimating a $250 million to $500 million 
shortfall.

   Pressure from governors in Trump strongholds could be a catalyst for 
Congress' next coronavirus relief legislation. Pelosi acknowledged that, 
telling reporters that demands from state and local officials was "probably the 
biggest leverage" Democrats will have to get another bill.

   On Thursday, 128 lawmakers, virtually all Democrats, sent Pelosi a letter 
requesting more relief for small- and medium-sized cities.

   The approaches taken by Pelosi and McConnell also reflect the rivalries 
between the two, as well as internal party politics. 

   Pelosi runs a top-down operation, taking a lead in virtually all major 
legislation that involves negotiations with Republicans. She often seeks to 
demonstrate that she's consulting with rank-and-file lawmakers, such as when 
she produced last week's $2.5 trillion Democratic coronavirus proposal.

   Republicans such as McConnell like to demonstrate toughness in dealings with 
Pelosi. That was on display when he limited her participation in the last 
month's talks on rebate checks and relief for businesses big and small. 

   Pelosi also said she will establish a special House committee with subpoena 
power to oversee the government's spending of the trillions it is providing to 
combat the effects of the pandemic. 

   She said the new bipartisan panel would be headed by No. 3 House Democratic 
leader James Clyburn of South Carolina and will try guarding against waste, 
profiteering, price gouging and political favoritism. Pelosi said it was 
modeled on a Senate committee that oversaw defense spending during World War II.

   McCarthy, the top House Republican, said he opposed Pelosi's proposal, 
saying it would take weeks to establish and would duplicate work by existing 
oversight panels.


(KR)

 
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