By Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican lawmakers signaled caution on Tuesday over Democratic plans to prepare another large spending bill to battle the coronavirus crisis, even as President Donald Trump called for $2 trillion in spending, this time on infrastructure.
Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi 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 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 accomplished.
“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 on Twitter.
Trump signed into law on Friday a $2.2 trillion package aimed at helping workers and businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic, the third bill that Congress has passed this month to address the outbreak.
U.S. coronavirus-related deaths reached 3,607 on Tuesday, exceeding the total number 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.
WATER SYSTEMS, BROADBAND
Pelosi, on MSNBC, said a phase four bill would include provisions “specific to the coronavirus challenge and that would be to do infrastructure for water systems that are so essential, broadband because so many people are relying on telecommunication and social media and the rest.”
Later on Tuesday, Pelosi said in a town hall hosted on Facebook that the fourth bill should include larger, direct payments to households, free coronavirus treatments and more funds to hospitals and state and local governments.
Pelosi also called for the District of Columbia to receive money in the fourth bill under the formula for states. It was treated as a territory in the earlier coronavirus bills and got $700 million less than it would have, Pelosi said.
Trump’s fellow Republicans say Congress should see how the just-enacted “phase three” legislation works out before doing another bill. In any case, Congress is not due to return to Washington until at least 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 warned that the U.S. Treasury is “wrestling” with tasks under phase three, including sending checks to individuals and providing loans to small businesses. He expressed skepticism about the House Democrats’ new effort, saying he worried they would try to include unrelated policy items.
“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 a standing joke around Washington.
Before passing the $2.2 trillion package aimed at countering the economic free fall from the coronavirus, Congress approved an $8.3 billion package on testing and research, and a $100 billion bill addressing paid sick days, unemployment benefits and food aid.
Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the highway trust fund. The highway trust faces a projected $261 billion shortfall over 10 years.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, David Morgan, David Shepardson, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; editing by Louise Heavens, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)