U.S. Republicans wary of more coronavirus spending, but Trump urges infrastructure plan

Politics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican lawmakers signaled caution on Tuesday over Democratic plans to prepare yet another large spending bill to battle the coronavirus crisis, even as President Donald Trump called for $2 trillion in spending, this time on infrastructure.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference, following a Senate vote on the coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Congress needs to take up a fourth coronavirus-related bill to focus on recovery in the aftermath of the outbreak. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, urged a “wait-and-see” approach.

Trump, a Republican, took to Twitter to urge Congress to pass a massive $2 trillion plan to update the country’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure, a cause he has often espoused but never been able to accomplish with lawmakers.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill. 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,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

Just this past Friday Trump signed into law a $2.2 trillion measure aimed at helping workers and businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic, the third bill that Congress has passed this month as it grapples with the outbreak.

U.S. coronavirus-related deaths reached 3,431 on Tuesday, exceeding the total number of deaths reported in China and reaching the third highest in the world behind Italy and Spain, according to a Reuters tally.

House Democrats are developing a “phase four” measure including improvements in infrastructure, such as telecommunications, electricity and water systems. Pelosi has noted the generally bipartisan appeal of infrastructure spending.

Democrats say shortcomings in infrastructure have been underscored by the virus outbreak as students in some regions lack internet capability to take online classes during school closures.

But congressional Republicans say Congress should see how “phase three” legislation works out before doing another bill. In any case, Congress is out until April 20.

“The unemployment part of phase three, I’m very worried about. … I’m very concerned that it may take six to eight weeks to get an unemployment check,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News Tuesday.

McConnell also warned that the U.S. Treasury is “wrestling” with the tasks under phase three, which include sending checks to individuals and providing loans to small businesses. The Senate majority leader expressed skepticism about the House Democrats’ new effort, saying he worried they would try to slip unrelated policy items into the next phase.

“Any kind of bill coming out of the House, I would look at like Reagan suggested we look at the Russians: Trust but verify,” McConnell said on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s program. Both McConnell and Graham spoke before Trump’s tweet on infrastructure spending.

Trump has long talked about repairing infrastructure, and Democrats have also been eager to do so. But Trump once walked out of an infrastructure meeting with Democrats, and efforts to do something have foundered so many times that “infrastructure week” has become something of a standing joke around Washington.

Democrats also want to accomplish a lot of other things in the next phase, including eliminating out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus medical treatment. Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi pointed to the needs of state and local governments. “That is absolutely essential. We need to do more,” she told MSNBC in an interview.

Before passing the $2.2 trillion package on Friday, which was aimed at countering the economic free fall that has followed massive business closures, Congress had passed an $8.3 billion package on testing and research, and a $100 billion bill addressing paid sick days, unemployment benefits and food aid.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; writing by Susan Cornwell; editing by Louise Heavens and Jonathan Oatis

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