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McConnell Eyes Virus Aid               07/08 06:34

   With Congress bracing for the next coronavirus aid package, Senate Majority 
Leader Mitch McConnell is outlining Republican priorities as earlier programs 
designed to ease Americans through the pandemic and economic fallout begin to 
expire. He is eyeing $1 trillion in new aid.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- An eviction moratorium is lifting. Extra unemployment 
benefits are ending. Parents are being called to work, but schools are 
struggling to reopen for fall as the COVID-19 crisis shows no signs of easing.

   With Congress bracing for the next coronavirus aid package, Senate Majority 
Leader Mitch McConnell is outlining Republican priorities as earlier programs 
designed to ease Americans through the pandemic and economic fallout begin to 
expire. He is eyeing $1 trillion in new aid.

   "This is not over," McConnell said during a visit to a food pantry Monday in 
Louisville, Kentucky.

   The GOP leader's next virus aid package is centered on liability 
protections, a top priority for Republicans seeking to shield doctors, schools, 
businesses and others from coronavirus-related lawsuits brought by patrons 
claiming injuries during reopenings.

   McConnell is also considering a fresh round of direct payments, noting they 
are especially helpful for those earning $40,000 a year or less. He wants the 
liability shield to run for five years, retroactive to December 2019.

   "Liability reform, kids in school, jobs and health care," he said. "That's 
where the focus, it seems to me, ought to be."

   Democrats have proposed a far more ambitious aid approach in the $3 trillion 
House-passed coronavirus rescue package, setting the outlines of a robust 
debate over how best to help Americans as COVID-19 cases surge in hot spots 
nationwide, threatening public health and economic livelihoods.

   Congress is away for a two-week recess, but the contours of the debate are 
taking shape before lawmakers resume session July 20. Deadlines for many 
programs expire by the end of the month.

   McConnell's earlier decision to hit "pause" on new relief has infuriated 
Democrats, especially as state and local governments clamor for aid to prevent 
worker layoffs.

   Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Tuesday that 
McConnell "has created needless uncertainty and pain for millions of families 
who are still reeling from the public health and economic crises."

   Schumer said, "Senator McConnell ought to be working across the aisle to 
prevent mass evictions, a new hunger crisis, and the layoff of more essential 
state and local government employees --- all things that will happen if 
Republicans continue to delay action or act stingily."

   The earlier rounds of aid, including the sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus 
aid package approved in March, were the biggest in U.S. history. And while aid 
was approved almost unanimously, it is now dividing the parties. Many 
Republicans view the outlay as excessive, and they want to avoid another round 
of big-ticket spending. Democrats argue that more aid is needed, and their bill 
includes new worker health and safety protocols to ensure a safe reopening.

   While the two sides share many common goals in boosting public health 
research toward treatments and a vaccine, the difference in the economic aid to 
Americans is stark.

   For example, Republicans mostly oppose the $600 weekly boost to unemployment 
benefits, arguing it's a disincentive to work because some employees earn more 
by staying home than they would on the job. Democrats say it's a lifeline for 
struggling Americans trying to make ends meet.

   Democrats also provide more money in their bill to prevent evictions: $100 
billion in rental assistance and $75 billion for homeowners paying mortgages. 
The $2 trillion coronavirus aid package's 120-day federal eviction moratorium 
on certain rentals expires at the end of July. The Democrats' bill would extend 
it through March 2021.

   Democrats are wary of the liability protections being proposed by 
Republicans. Instead, their bill includes other priorities, such as funding to 
shore up the struggling U.S. Postal Service, which they see as another lifeline 
for Americans, and to provide $50 monthly stipends toward broadband services 
for households with laid-off or furloughed workers to stay connected online.

   Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said 
McConnell's idea for another round of direct $1,200 payments is no substitute 
for extending the enhanced unemployment benefits.

   "The next coronavirus relief package must extend supercharged unemployment 
benefits," Wyden said in a statement.

   He said the jobless aid has "kept the economy afloat and allowed millions of 
families to pay the rent and buy groceries."

   One area of common ground that has emerged in recent weeks is that both 
parties believe in the importance of wearing masks in public to help limit the 
virus spread as more shops and businesses reopen and Americans leave their 
homes.

   Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the Homeland Security 
Committee, and other Democrats have pushed the Transportation Security 
Administration to require masks for all people going through airport security 
checkpoints.

   McConnell told people in Kentucky that wearing masks is the single-most 
important thing they can do when around others.

   "It ain't confusing," McConnell said Monday at a hospital in Bradford. "Put 
on a mask."

 
 
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