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McConnell: GOP Virus Proposal Out Soon 07/15 06:53

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he'll begin to roll out details 
of the new COVID-19 relief package to senators as soon as next week and 
suggested it will include new funding for school reopenings, some unemployment 
benefits and money for health care providers.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he'll begin 
to roll out details of the new COVID-19 relief package to senators as soon as 
next week and suggested it will include new funding for school reopenings, some 
unemployment benefits and money for health care providers.

   Expected to hit $1 trillion, the emerging Republican package shows shifting 
priorities as the pandemic crisis deepens nationwide. Once reluctant to approve 
more aid, Republicans and the White House now say more is needed.

   In recent days, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been reaching out to 
GOP senators ahead of negotiations with Democrats, who already approved a $3 
trillion House bill.

   McConnell, during a visit to a hospital in his home state of Kentucky, said 
Tuesday the theme of the upcoming GOP bill will be children and schools, jobs 
and unemployment, and health care.

   Congress is returning Monday for two weeks to consider fresh coronavirus 
relief as the Trump administration has been unable to halt the virus' deepening 
spread across the country. Asked at an earlier event Tuesday if he would be 
attending next month's Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, 
a state with record-setting cases, McConnell said his "current intention" is to 
go but he would assess closer to the date.

   While McConnell wanted to hit "pause" after the last big relief package in 
May, he now hopes to swiftly approve the new one in hopes of staunching the 
pandemic crisis and economic fallout.

   Speaking at the White House, President Donald Trump said, "We have to get 
everything open."

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that, without a comprehensive federal 
strategy for the country, the devastating virus and its economic toll will only 
persist.

   "We can open our economy, we can open our schools, if we test, trace, treat, 
separate, mask, hygiene and the rest, but we have to make a national decision 
to do it," Pelosi said on CNN.

   Pelosi said she's "very afraid of where we are now, because of the ignorance 
in the administration." She warned that if Congress doesn't make the 
investments needed, "we're going to pay a worse price, worse hit, on the 
economy."

   Central to the GOP proposal is a five-year liability shield that McConnell 
wants to extend to businesses, hospitals, schools and others to prevent 
lawsuits from those claiming injuries during the pandemic and economic shutdown 
and reopening.

   McConnell acknowledged schools will need more money, especially as they 
reduce class sizes for social distancing and potentially stagger classroom 
shifts. Democrats have proposed $100 billion for schools in the House-passed 
bill.

   This week, Vice President Mike Pence assured governors on a private 
conference call that he was working with congressional leaders on securing more 
education funds. Some Trump advisers want a robust amount for schools, 
believing it would be politically popular and give the president a needed 
campaign boost ahead of the election.

   "I know they're going to need help in order to keep the kids safely in 
schools," McConnell said. "There's a cost associated with that."

   Republicans initially wanted to end a $600 weekly boost to unemployment 
insurance that's set to expire at the end of this month. But McConnell said 
Tuesday that providing some unemployment insurance is "extremely important" for 
out-of-work Americans. The new bill will likely reconfigure the bonus, 
replacing it with a smaller amount.

   Additionally, Republicans are eyeing a return-to-work stipend for workers to 
get back on the job and another round of direct payments to Americans modeled 
on the the $1,200 rebates sent in spring.

   Republicans are also considering new tax breaks for companies that 
reconfigure offices and work spaces to protect returning employees from the 
coronavirus.

   Unclear is how much money Republicans are willing to provide states and 
cities pushing the federal government for relief. Also uncertain is what kind 
of resources McConnell plans to make available for virus testing, which many 
experts say is central to staunching the virus spread.

   House Democrats have proposed $75 billion toward a new national testing 
strategy in their bill.

   With the federal deficit hitting a historic high in June, Republicans are 
likely to object to big-ticket spending. McConnell acknowledges the new 
legislation is expected to run into resistances. Some expect as many as a dozen 
Republican senators could be opposed.

   As lawmakers debate what to include in the next COVID-19 bill, a range of 
interest groups have peppered Congress with requests.

   In a call Tuesday organized by a coalition of labor and health groups, 
actress Jane Fonda and other speakers urged lawmakers to include money for 
personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers, as well as paid 
sick leave and a mandate for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 
to impose an emergency health standard for U.S. workplaces.

   Democrats and advocacy groups have accused the agency of being largely 
invisible during the pandemic and failing to protect workers at meatpacking 
plants, health care facilities and other high-risk sites. Instead of an 
emergency standard, the agency has relied on voluntary guidance that recommends 
companies take various steps to erect physical barriers, enforce social 
distancing and install more hand-sanitizing stations.

   The House Democrats' bill mandates an emergency workplace standard.

   The lack of action "is disgraceful and an insult to family members" who have 
lost loved ones, said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National 
Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group.

   Martinez said the next COVID-19 bill must include funds for personal 
protective equipment, paid sick leave and full medical coverage for essential 
workers, and the emergency OSHA standard.

 
 
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