Congress needs to agree on when they’ll disagree.

Congress has come to an agreement…on when they plan on disagreeing.

Last week, Congress appeared to have an informal, even bipartisan consensus on its legislative calendar for the next six months.

For June, the House and Senate both have a full agenda, including a set of appropriations bills, the Annual Defense Authorization bill, and police reform.

A fourth congressional package on COVID-19 is almost a guarantee now; there’s general consensus that it should be passed in July, before the August recess, when lawmakers will take a break for pretty much the whole month through to mid-September.

We have many miles to go, however, before Congress agrees on what will be in the package.

For some, the bill is being measured by how big it should be. The White House last week said that the president was looking for something in the range of $2 trillion for the new stimulus package. That’s a trillion less than the $3 trillion price tag for the HEROES Act, the COVID-19 package that the Democrat-led House passed in mid-May. But it’s probably a trillion dollars more than what the Republican-led Senate could stomach under Mitch McConnell, which would like to see something around $1 trillion.

A parenthetical here: can you believe we’re talking about these numbers?

The Republican tendency towards “less is more” in the next stimulus bill is also evident in the GOP’s 2020 campaign platform, which they’ve voted to keep unchanged from the last presidential election. The Republican platform suggests that “the huge increase in the national debt demanded by and incurred during the current Administration has placed a significant burden on future generations.”

Besides the money that’s in the stimulus package, of course, there also has to be agreement on the issues. Let’s go through a few:

  • As we’ve talked about on Monitor Mondays, the Republicans want to see some kind of liability protection for businesses, including healthcare facilities and healthcare offices, so that there’s less of a risk to both employees and employers when they attempt to reopen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has produced guidance or recommendations, but no real required standards that would give evidence that a worksite is safe to reopen amidst the pandemic. Republicans want to see some protections, and Democrats are now signaling that they’d be willing to discuss.
  • The White House has expressed desire for a payroll tax cut, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the states, and another stimulus check to American families.
  • The Democrats, for their part, have a whole menu of issues they’ve already put forward in the HEROES Act, most specifically significant funding for state and local governments, which are reeling from the costs of COVID-19.

Assuming this fourth COVID-19 package gets passed before August, when Congress comes back in September there’s talk about what’s being called “recovery packages” in order to jump-start the economy, including an infrastructure bill.

The few months before the election would provide rich soil for quick passage of an infrastructure package, just in time, both for a country that will need to make up for lost jobs, and for politicians that need something meaty for the last of their campaign speeches.

Programming Note: Matthew Albright is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to his live “Legislative Updates,” sponsored by Zelis, every Monday, 10 a.m. EST.

 

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