By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will begin debate next week on a fifth coronavirus-response bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday, as he forecast tough negotiations with Democrats who are seeking broader aid than Republicans.
“Next week, we’ll be beginning a new bill,” McConnell said during an interview with WRVK radio in his home state of Kentucky.
McConnell added the legislation, which has not yet been unveiled, will likely be more contentious than the previous four coronavirus aid bills. Those pumped more than $3 trillion into the hobbled economy with a combination of business loans, expanded unemployment benefits for workers and direct payments to families.
“I do think we’ll get there and do something that needs to be done” before Congress begins an August recess, the Republican senator predicted.
But there are also divisions among Republicans – in the White House and in Congress – over the precise direction of the upcoming bill, including whether there should be another round of direct payments to individuals and families.
McConnell has talked about a bill costing no more than $1 trillion, while Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion measure in mid-May that McConnell has so far ignored.
McConnell wants to focus on liability protections for business, schools and other entities as they reopen their operations even as coronavirus cases surge in many parts of the United States, including Kentucky.
California on Monday imposed new restrictions on businesses as coronavirus hospitalizations soared in the country’s most-populous state. Coronavirus infections have risen rapidly in about 40 of the 50 states over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.
Democrats are pushing for new federal aid to state and local governments affected by the coronavirus, which Republicans have resisted.
Lawmakers also have been arguing over extending special unemployment benefits that are due to expire at the end of July, as well as a massive small business-loan program that runs through early August.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)