“I don’t understand how a senator can go home and not have delivered supercharged unemployment along the lines we’re talking about,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who introduced legislation on Wednesday that would allow expanded unemployment benefits to continue as long as the economy was weak.
But as is their tendency just before funding and programs are set to expire, several lawmakers expressed optimism that Senate Republicans could rapidly reconcile their divisions and deficit fears with the $3 trillion measure that House Democrats approved in May.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told reporters on Tuesday that the focus of any legislation taken up in the Senate would be “kids, jobs and health care,” as well as liability protections for hospitals, doctors, nurses, businesses, colleges and universities.
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said he had asked lawmakers and staff on the committee responsible for overseeing health, education and labor spending to begin compiling a package that “will ensure we have more testing, that we continue to work on therapeutics, and we have the money we need to move forward with a vaccine.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also honing in on a deal to revamp the government’s efforts to help small businesses, likely including at least a partial shift from offering what were essentially grants to companies that kept workers on their payrolls to offering low- or no-interest, long-term loans.
A coalition of industry associations, led by the Economic Innovation Group, an entrepreneurship-focused think tank, called on lawmakers this week to give small businesses sufficient aid “to survive a prolonged period of lower consumer demand, ongoing operational disruption, and continued uncertainty until the availability of a vaccine and effective therapeutic treatment eliminate Covid-19 as a severe public health concern” — including simple, zero-interest loans.
“As the shutdowns have grown longer, it has become clear that millions of small employers need additional help if they are to keep their heads above water and survive,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and one of the architects of the emerging plan to help businesses. “I believe that we are very close to reaching bipartisan agreement, and I know that for small businesses that are struggling, such an agreement cannot come soon enough.”