Congress moves as one to fight coronavirus as pandemic hits home, sickens first two members

Congress moves as one to fight coronavirus as pandemic hits home, sickens first two members

Congress, a branch of the government not known for its ability to act quickly and certainly not known for coming to broad consensus on important issues, has done both of those things as it has shepherded two coronavirus-related spending bills to President Trump’s desk in two weeks and is feverishly working to put together a third, blockbuster package that could be worth upward of $1 trillion.

Trump’s signing of the second coronavirus bill, which will provide $100 billion worth of paid sick leave, unemployment help and free virus testing to Americans, comes as the coronavirus pandemic is hitting close to home on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, were the first two members of Congress to test positive for the disease officially known as COVID-19.

“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement on his diagnosis. “We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”

Congress is certainly working together. The Senate managed to pass the House coronavirus bill without amendments by a 90-8 margin, sending it to Trump’s desk just two days after the House passed a technical fix to the legislation.

The expedited passage of the House legislation was a stark departure from the usual interaction between the chambers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the self-styled “Grim Reaper” for the House’s “socialist agenda,” has been at odds with House Democrats since they took control of the lower chamber in early 2019.

“This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and, in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday, announcing he would vote for the second coronavirus bill despite some perceived shortcomings.

And even before the Senate ushered through the second bill, members of Congress and the Trump administration were falling over each other to offer up ideas for another piece of legislation.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, each proposed different ideas for how the government could send checks directly to Americans who are financially strapped because of the economic slowdown. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., confirmed Tuesday on Sirius XM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program” that a “one-time distribution of $1,000 to every adult citizen” was “being seriously discussed.”

Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he would propose at least $750 billion in spending to fight the coronavirus crisis before it came out the next day that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pitched Republican senators on $850 billion in spending for the same purpose.

Then reports came out Wednesday that the third coronavirus package might actually be worth $1 trillion or more, as the administration urges two rounds of stimulus checks to Americans.

McConnell Tuesday said he would break off Republican senators into task forces to write up parts of the GOP version of the third coronavirus response bill in coordination with the White House.

“This is a herculean task, from a legislative point of view, to try to craft something this significant with 53 people,” McConnell said. “Everyone has a way to funnel in their suggestions to one of these three task forces. These task forces will be working with the Treasury Department and Secretary Mnuchin and his team, to see if we can reach a Republican consensus so we know where we are.”

He said he then plans to sit down with Schumer and work out the differences between the Republican proposal and the Democratic proposal before working to quickly pass the third-stage legislation.

In a Wednesday Dear Colleague letter to her Democratic members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., prepared them for the third coronavirus bill, which she said would be focused on “Unemployment Insurance, increased Medicaid funding and further assistance to small businesses.

“As we proceed with further legislation, we all see this tragic pandemic as a challenge for us to shape an economy that puts Families First,” she wrote in the letter.

She continued: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought great pain to our country, but we must be hopeful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Science has given us reason to be hopeful, and the best minds in America are working all hands on deck. Take pride in your support for our first bill, which allocated billions of dollars for research for treatments and a vaccine and in our second bill putting Families First, focusing on testing, testing, testing.”

Pelosi said in the letter she planned a Thursday conference call with her caucus. Additionally, McConnell is expected to speak with Schumer on a potential deal for a Senate version of a Phase 3 coronavirus bill Thursday — hours after Schumer and Mnuchin spoke twice Wednesday night about the legislation.

Congress’ concrete actions aren’t the only things moving with unusual unity, either. A number of official social media channels that normally offer up a steady diet of partisan attacks, including the Senate Republicans’ official Twitter account and the House Democrats’ official account, have turned into sources of vital coronavirus information as the pandemic has gotten more severe in the United States.

In addition to providing health tips for how to keep healthy and limit the spread of the virus, the accounts for the respective majorities of the House and Senate, along with a number of other normally partisan channels, have emphasized the importance of Americans acting together to combat the coronavirus.

“Now more than ever, we must remember that we are ALL in this together,” the House Democrats tweeted Wednesday.

“We’re ALL in this together,” the Senate Republicans say in the tweet pinned at the top of their account. “And we can ALL do our part to help stop the spread of coronavirus.”