Pressure for COVID-19 deal builds on Congress

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Schumer speak to reporters during news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters about the 2020 U.S. presidential election results and the continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 12, 2020.
REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By David Morgan, David Henry and Susan Cornwell, Reuters

Pressure for a fresh COVID-19 relief bill mounted on Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, as a top Wall Street figure lambasted lawmakers as “childish” for not moving forward with assistance as U.S. coronavirus cases skyrocket.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi have invited Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to join them at the bargaining table after months of stalemate.

But even as U.S. COVID-19 deaths edged toward the 250,000 mark, Schumer did not reject the idea that lawmakers may have to resort to making coronavirus relief part of a government funding bill that must pass next month to keep government agencies operating.

At a New York Times conference, JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said, “This is childish behavior on the part of our politicians,” adding that the two parties should just split their differences.

“Just get it done,” Dimon said, while declining to blame one side over the other.

Meanwhile, the two sides in Congress continued to blame each other for the lack of progress.

“Our colleagues face a simple choice. They put the election behind them and work across the aisle to get something done, or they can remain in their partisan corner,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried but failed to agree on a relief package of around $2 trillion ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Senate Republicans rejected the idea of spending so much.

Earlier on Wednesday, McConnell said Congress should aim for agreement on items where there is little disagreement. But he blamed Democrats for blocking earlier Senate Republican efforts to approve spending packages of $500 billion, which Democrats have called inadequate.

“Republicans stand ready to deliver this urgent aid. Let’s fund all the programs where there’s not even real disagreement. Just this once, where there’s no disagreement. And let’s do it now. We just need Democrats to finally get serious about this,” McConnell said.

Schumer told reporters on Wednesday that if McConnell doesn’t agree to discuss a fresh COVID-19 relief bill, “We’ll have to look at other alternatives.”

Congress already passed $3 trillion in coronavirus assistance early in the pandemic.

Schumer and his fellow Senate Democrats also unveiled new legislation to ramp up the national supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and other frontline workers.

He said the legislation would authorize the strategic national stockpile to purchase $10 billion of PPE including N-95 respirators, gloves, gowns, masks, face shields and surgical masks. The bill also calls for the invocation of the Defense Production Act to expand industrial capacity and provides $1 billion in grants to help small businesses assist in PPE production.

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