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Lawmakers are still distancing themselves from Washington, but they are abuzz about what a potential “Phase 4” coronavirus response bill — which could be in the neighborhood of $2 trillion — might look like.
President Trump signed an $8.3 billion “Phase 1” coronavirus bill on March 6 aimed at developing vaccines and diagnostic tests while also providing funds to federal agencies and state governments. Trump and Congress then upped the ante on March 18 by passing a “Phase 2” coronavirus bill, which was estimated to cost just over $100 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Trump then signed the massive $2.2 trillion “Phase 3” coronavirus relief bill on March 26, which largely focused on easing the fiscal pain caused by the pandemic by giving Americans direct payments and providing stimulus cash for struggling businesses. All three pieces of legislation passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of Congress.
Here’s what to expect with a potential “Phase 4” coronavirus response bill, which could be passed by the end of April.
The common theme coming from Republicans and Democrats on a potential “Phase 4” bill is infrastructure.
“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement Thursday that the infrastructure they would most like to see rebuilt the is American health care infrastructure, which is being seriously tested during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The number one priority is addressing this health crisis, which requires a Marshall Plan to rebuild our health care infrastructure on a continental scale and ensure the resources are there to test and treat everyone who needs it,” they said.
According to a release from Pelosi’s office on Wednesday, health care infrastructure may include building “community health centers” and boosting telemedicine.
More direct payments
The House Democrats’ version of the “Phase 3” coronavirus bill included a number of differences from the Senate version that eventually was signed into law by Trump. One of those differences was that the House bill had larger direct payments to Americans, which are meant to make up for lost income many Americans are facing as the economy is largely shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Democrats say they want more direct payments in a fourth bill.
Pelosi said this week on CNN that Democrats “had bigger direct payments in our bill, and we think we’ll get more direct payments in another bill.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, through his presidential campaign website, proposed a $2,000 monthly payment to help Americans make it through the coronavirus crisis.
More money for small business loans
The third coronavirus vill included $350 billion for the government to loan to small businesses to take care of expenses while they are closed down due to the coronavirus. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that he very well might ask for more money for such loans in further coronavirus legislation.
“This is a very popular program with Republicans and Democrats, and the president likes it a lot,” Mnuchin told Fox Business’ Stuart Varney Monday. “If we run out of money, and this is a huge success, we will absolutely go back to Congress and ask for more money.”
Environmental measures from Democrats
Democrats attempted to work a number of measures they thought were important into the third coronavirus bill but in some cases were turned back by Senate Republicans who negotiated those provisions out of the legislation. One of those provisions was an effort to force airlines to reduce their carbon emissions.
“There’s going to be objections to this,” House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Wednesday, dismissing criticism he got for pushing the idea in the third coronavirus bill. “Mitch McConnell made fun of my provisions. But the airlines agreed to reduce their carbon pollution dramatically and quickly to be carbon neutral by 2025. It’s time, you know, to get serious about this.”
DeFazio said Democrats will have “green” energy in mind, such as electric cars and trucks and using more environmentally safe materials, as they draw up their version of a fourth coronavirus bill.
Opposition from many Republicans
A number of high-profile Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have expressed trepidation at the prospect of rushing through a fourth coronavirus bill on a similar scale to the third.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
“We need to see what happens in terms of fighting the coronavirus in the next several weeks,” Cruz told “Mornings with Maria” on Wednesday. “We need to allow the month of April to play out, and in this month of April, we need to be focusing our resources and energy on defeating the virus.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., both said they were not ready to start on a fourth bill, either.
McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, said on the “Hugh Hewitt Show” Tuesday that he is suspicious of Pelosi’s motivations in pushing for a “Phase 4” bill.
“I think you have to genuinely be aware of the Speaker in a situation like this,” McConnell said. “I’m reminded of what Rahm Emanuel said during the financial crisis – never let a crisis go to waste. What that meant was seize in the crisis to try to achieve unrelated policy items that you have not been able to get under other circumstances.”
Even a senior Trump administration official who spoke with Fox Business earlier this week said the White House was not yet fully focused on a “Phase 4” bill.
“With the real and urgent need people are facing, we’re all in right now on implementing phase 3,” the official said. “We’re handling the now items now, and will handle the next things next.”
Support from Pelosi
Pelosi Friday continued to vocally support a potential “Phase 4” coronavirus bill.
“The acceleration of the coronavirus demands that we double down on the downpayment we made in CARES by passing a CARES 2 package,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative that we go bigger and further assisting small business, to go longer in unemployment benefits and provide additional resources to process UI claims and to give families additional direct payments. We must also provide the desperately needed resources for our hospitals, community health centers, health systems and health workers on the frontlines of this crisis.”
She continued: “The coronavirus is moving swiftly, and our communities cannot afford for us to wait.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman, Marisa Schultz and Mike Emanuel, as well as Fox Businesses’ Evie Fordham and Blake Burman contributed to this report.