Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that he is hopeful Congress can strike a deal on more coronavirus relief, as Republicans spike a $3 trillion rescue package House Democrats plan to pass Friday.
As the U.S. Covid-19 death toll tops 84,000 and government data shows more than 36 million jobless claims during the crisis, Democrats pushed to put more federal money toward state and local governments, testing, direct payments to Americans and hazard pay for essential workers — among a bevy of other proposals in the more than 1,800-page bill released this week. Republicans, wary of more taxpayer spending to combat the outbreak, have criticized the proposal as an expensive wish list.
Schumer told CNBC that he believes a worsening crisis will force Republicans to consider more spending to try to rescue the economy. He pointed to Wednesday comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who said "additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery."
"Despite my worry and concern that our Republicans are sitting on the sidelines, I am optimistic we can get something done," said Schumer, a New York Democrat.
After Congress passed four bills, including the most expensive rescue package in U.S. history, to combat the pandemic, lawmakers have come nowhere near a consensus on how to proceed with a furhter federal response. Republicans and President Donald Trump have generally embraced faster timelines for reopening the economy than Democrat have.
But even GOP lawmakers acknowledge restarting business activity requires more Covid-19 testing capacity. On Thursday, Schumer called Trump "derelict" on the issue, saying the U.S. is "not close to having enough tests." The president has repeatedly defended his administration's efforts to build up a testing infrastructure.
The Senate minority leader told CNBC that he wants the GOP to engage in talks on an additional coronavirus relief bill. He asked which parts of the House plan Republicans could support.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday that Trump opposes the Democratic bill but would be open to additional legislation.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the House bill "an unserious product from an unserious House majority." McConnell said he wanted to focus efforts on a safe economic reopening.
"We need to be smart, and we need to be safe, but we have to find a more sustainable middle ground," the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell outlined two priorities as Congress moves forward: increased testing capacity and increased liability protections for doctors and businesses as the economy reopens. He added that "strong legal protections will be a hard red line in any future legislation."
McConnell is working on a bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Asked Thursday about a liability proposal, Schumer said, "We haven't seen it." But Democrats have generally criticized such a measure.