Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday in Bowling Green that any future federal coronavirus relief bill would be limited in scope.
McConnell spoke at a news conference in the Warren County Courthouse alongside Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni and Barren River District Health Department Director Matt Hunt.
While touting the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March, McConnell said he is “pushing the pause button” before agreeing to another coronavirus relief bill.
Earlier this month, the Democratic-led House passed a broad, $3 trillion relief package dubbed the HEROES Act. McConnell reiterated Wednesday that the bill has no chance of passing the Republican-led Senate, calling it a “grab bag” and “not a serious effort.”
The HEROES Act includes another round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals with a $6,000 maximum per household, and it launches a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages, according to The Associated Press. It also includes $75 billion for virus testing, new subsidies for laid-off workers to pay health insurance, an employee retention tax credit for businesses and $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers.
McConnell said that while another round of relief is likely, he wants to wait and see where the country is in a few weeks as it gradually reopens amid the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
He said the country’s debt, already at record levels, also needs to be taken into consideration before another relief bill is passed.
“We can’t borrow enough to prop up the country,” he said.
He said if there is a next relief bill, it should focus on “jobs and kids,” saying reopening schools will be vital. He said the chances of school-age children dying from the coronavirus are “minuscule.”
McConnell said while he believes in continuing funding unemployment benefits, he called the added $600 weekly unemployment benefit included in the CARES Act a “mistake,” saying people are being paid more to stay home on unemployment than go back to work. The benefit is slated to expire in July. The HEROES Act would continue the $600 benefit through January.
He also reiterated his stance that a future aid package will have to include liability protections for businesses – “You can’t function again worried about an army of lawyers” outside your door, he said.
Democrats have largely balked at including such liability protections, arguing that employees must be assured that they will not be forced to work in unsafe conditions.
The CARES Act included $150 billion for local governments to offset some costs related to dealing with the pandemic, but many local government leaders have said more aid is needed to offset massive revenue shortfalls.
Democrats included nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments in the HEROES Act.
“Obviously they’d like to have more,” McConnell said of governments, but he wouldn’t commit to working to ensure such aid is included in the next relief bill.
Answering a reporter’s question, McConnell also addressed the protest at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort over the weekend that included the hanging of a dummy with a photo of Gov. Andy Beshear’s face on it.
While condemning the protest, McConnell said he disagreed with Beshear’s statement Tuesday that politicians who have lent support to those involved in Sunday’s actions bear some responsibility. “You cannot fan the flames and condemn the fire,” Beshear said at his Tuesday news conference.
McConnell said he disagreed, saying “The people who bear responsibility are the people who did it.”
Before McConnell spoke, local leaders also spoke and touted the “collaborative” effort to fight the pandemic in Warren County, which has seen almost 1,000 cases of the virus as of Wednesday.
Buchanon said the last three or four months “seem like three or four years.” He said, “now the real challenge begins” as many businesses reopen. “Only we the people can do the right thing,” such as wearing face masks and social distancing, he said.
Caboni said the local collaboration “has been remarkable” and he again committed to reopening campus in the fall.
“We will be back this fall with students on campus,” he said.
Details about how in-person life at WKU will look this fall have not been released.
– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.