- Congress returns after a two-week recess to hash out plans for another coronavirus relief program, with additional pressure for action coming from the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, Republicans and Democrats are far apart on what the plan should contain — and that doesn’t even include the $2 trillion difference in cost.
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When the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act in May to address the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans called it a “liberal wishlist.” President Trump called it “dead on arrival.”
At the time, plenty of Republicans opposed another major spending bill for coronavirus relief. However, the current resurgence in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, especially in the South and West, has created an entirely different political environment for a new bill.
This week, as Congress returns from a two-week break, we learn just how different. Will Congress be able to hammer out a deal in the three weeks before they break for the summer?
The Democrats will clearly stick to the HEROES Act — which includes a second stimulus check of $1,200 to those Americans earning less than $75,000 a year, extending the extra weekly unemployment insurance benefit of $600 beyond July 31, and nearly $1 trillion in funds for state and local governments hit hard by the pandemic. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been discussing a $1 trillion bill of his own, which includes a stimulus check going to workers making less than $40,000 a year, and protection from liability lawsuits for hospitals, schools and businesses that reopen and are blamed by employees or customers for contracting the coronavirus.
Both sides agree that tens of billions should go to funding research for a vaccine and the drug’s eventual distribution. They disagree on how much Americans should pay for the vaccine. Democrats say the government should buy it and distribute it free to citizens. Republicans say it should be free to those who can’t afford it, and have everyone else pay a “reasonable price.” The definition of “reasonable price” is already up for debate — Gilead Sciences priced its COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir at $3,120 for the usual patient, sparking pushback.
Here’s what else we’ll be watching in the week ahead:
WALMART REQUIRES MASKS (Monday): America’s biggest retailer will join Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, Kroger and others in requiring customers to wear face coverings starting Monday, as big business steps in to provide public health leadership where many elected officials will not. “We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,” says Walmart. “We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”
TESLA EARNINGS (Wednesday): The electric vehicle maker is in the midst of a stunning rally, up around 500% from a year ago, as investors believe the company is better positioned to deliver the fossil-fuel-free cars of the future than traditional automakers. If Tesla turns a profit this quarter, which is not exactly a done deal, it will be eligible for inclusion in the S&P 500 and become the 13th largest company on the list, with a market value of $286 billion — more than Bank of America and American Express combined.
PLAY BALL! (Thursday): Major League Baseball returns for a pandemic-shortened, 60-game season starting Thursday. Sure, there are more important things to do than watching professional sports. (The WNBA season starts Saturday, by the way.) But in uneasy times, like the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it gives us something to do together. “Sports offered a safe space for an entire population to come together, to grieve and to celebrate simultaneously,” writes Hilary Giorgi on MLB.com.
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