Why Americans Shouldn't Expect More Money from Congress to Restart the Economy Anytime Soon

As states begin to relax social distancing guidelines to reopen portions of the economy, Republicans—chief among them Mitch McConnell—are making it clear: Do not anticipate any more near-term bailouts to help get started.

"The future of our country in terms of the amount of debt we're adding up is a matter of great concern," the Senate majority leader said Tuesday. "Until we can begin to open up the economy, we can't spend enough to solve the problem."

The federal government is firing up the money machines as Congress readies to throw struggling small businesses another lifeline worth nearly half-a-trillion-dollars. In total, Congress has so far passed three coronavirus relief packages totaling roughly $2.5 trillion: $8.3 billion for treating and preventing COVID-19's spread; expanded paid sick leave expected to cost $192 billion; and a $2.3 trillion economic stimulus for struggling Americans.

McConnell's remarks immediately followed the Senate passing a $484 billion package for more aid to small businesses, hospitals and testing. And once it passes the House on Thursday, Congress will have allocated about $3 trillion to combat the pandemic that's killed north of 45,000 people in the United States.

But until Congress returns to Washington and reconvenes its normal legislative business, the Kentucky Republican said no further relief measures will pass his chamber. That means several weeks—likely more than a month—will pass until lawmakers approve more legislation aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the virus.

It took Congress roughly two weeks to overcome the partisan gridlock to replenish a depleted small-business loan program that both parties support. The impasse previewed the lengthy political battles to come once members return the first week of May.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives for a press conference after a pro forma session where the Senate passed a nearly $500 billion package to further aid small businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 21. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

"My view is we ought to bring everybody back, have full participation, begin to think about the implications to the country's future for this level of national debt, begin to see some evidence of the economy beginning to get back to normal... and take measured steps as we go along," McConnell said. "Let's see what we're doing that is succeeding, what's not succeeding, what needs more and let's weigh this very carefully."

Rather than provide states more bailout money, McConnell told the conservative Hugh Hewitt radio show Wednesday he'd prefer they "use the bankruptcy route."

Republicans and Democrats couldn't be further apart.

"For anyone who thinks this is the last train out of the station, that is not even close to the case," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday, flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) talk to reporters U.S. Capitol April 21 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The next package will be "big," "broad" and "bold," Schumer said, and Democrats will begin to work on it "very soon and very quickly."

Democrats will seek more funding for housing, infrastructure, elections, the postal service, frontline workers, state and local governments, and strengthening pension protections, among other things. Republicans have already come out swinging against some proposals, like money for voting by mail and the Postal Service.

"All these ideas have been discussed with the idea we'll 'take it up later,'" Pelosi said. "Well, this is later."

However, McConnell's stance on future economic relief is a departure from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin already back another stimulus package, one that focuses on infrastructure. Trump said Tuesday that after he signs the $484 billion small-business aid into law later this week, lawmakers should turn their focus toward striking another bipartisan deal.

"After I sign this Bill, we will begin discussions on the next Legislative Initiative with fiscal relief to State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID 19, much needed Infrastructure Investments for Bridges, Tunnels, Broadband, Tax Incentives for Restaurants, Entertainment, Sports, and Payroll Tax Cuts to increase Economic Growth," he wrote in a pair of tweets.

Democrats are already trying to capitalize on Trump's position. Citing statements by the president and conversations with administration officials, such as Mnuchin, Pelosi and Schumer expressed confidence they can create another massive bipartisan bill similar to the $2.3 trillion package, despite the pushback from McConnell.

"Because of commitments and statements of the Republicans on some of these issues, we'll take it up next," Pelosi said. "And because of the great mobilization and concern of the American people—which is as Lincoln said, 'public sentiment is everything,'—how they have made their voices heard will help us get a very strong package next time."