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View From the Hill: What’s Next for COVID-19 Legislation

View of the Capitol Building behind the Washington Monument with golden light
The political battle now occurring in the U.S. Congress is over legislation responding to the continued crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. House has passed the Heroes Act, which is a $3 trillion piece of legislation that provides funding for a number of high-priority issues including financial help for state and local governments and an extension of the unemployment provisions. 

  • That legislation is the opening position describing how the House Democrats see the need to respond to this crisis.

The Senate, on the other hand, has just released from Senator McConnell’s office a draft piece of legislation that is about $1 trillion in cost and includes some liability protection language for businesses. 

There are three key points:

  • The McConnell draft has been criticized by some Republican Senators, including Senator Lindsay Graham, who predicted that only half of the Republicans would vote for it as is. 
  • Some are very concerned about the price tag being far too high. 
  • At the same time, the President is pushing the Senate to include a payroll tax cut which, to date, they have not done. 

It is likely the Senate Republican plan will still be reworked over the coming days.

What I'm Hearing

I’ve been talking to some of the Congressional leadership and they tell me that the meetings that occurred over the past two nights with the Republican leadership have gone very badly. Each side seems to have things the other side both can’t do and must do, and no one understands how this might be resolved.

  • In the past, Senator McConnell has had the leverage to tell Senate Democrats that he has the votes to pass something in the Senate. Most Senators, including Republicans, now say that McConnell will not have the Republican votes he needs to pass what he has released. That reduces some of his leverage in the negotiations. 

On the other hand, McConnell still will likely have the votes to stop something that he doesn’t want. But that leaves him in the very difficult position of having to try to navigate his divided caucus and the White House and get something enacted that includes an agreement in both the House and Senate.

Moving Forward

The Democrats will increasingly be pressuring the Senate with the specific provisions in that much larger COVID bill that they have already passed. The difference between the House position and the Senate Republican provisions released this week is nearly $2 trillion dollars. So, the stakes are very high.

Keep in mind that:

  • In disputes like this, after both sides make their political presentations and offer us what is sometimes called the “noise of democracy,” there is usually some notion of which side of the debate has a better chance of prevailing. 
  • It’s still early, but most legislators I have talked to really don’t have much of an idea how this will end. We are close to elections, both legislative and Presidential, and both sides have a lot at stake in resolving this legislation. 
  • There is much to be gained and lost, yes, for the political parties, but most importantly for the American people.

Somehow, this has to be resolved by the House and the Senate. Hopefully, the potential solution will begin to take some shape in the next couple of weeks. We desperately need good solutions coming from our government as we battle a medical crisis and economic devastation.

Byron Dorgan

Senior Policy Advisor & Former U.S. Senator

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