Virus Outbreak Congress

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leaves the Senate chamber after voting, Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hopeful that a deeply divided Congress will compromise and deliver another round of coronavirus relief before the end of the month, a regional director for the national business group said Tuesday.

“We’re hoping that now that the House is there we’ll be able to find a path forward but time is running out,” said John Gonzales, director of the Southwest-South Central Regional Office for the U.S. Chamber.

Members of the House returned to the nation’s capital Monday, four days after Democrats scuttled a GOP-driven recovery bill in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of COVID-19 relief. Her remarks came around the same time Gonzales was addressing the local Chamber of Commerce.

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said on CNBC.

The federal government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“We need your help getting them across the finish line. Continue to reach out to your members of Congress and your senators and let them know we need additional assistance,” Gonzales said.

Agreement that relief is needed has won bipartisan support in Washington, but the sticking point has been how much cash to pour into recovery. Republicans in the Senate offered a $650 billion measure last week, but the 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster. Democrats have refused to accept any proposal less than $2.2 trillion.

Pelosi’s comments came as moderate Democrats, many from areas won by President Donald Trump four years ago, signed on to a $1.5 trillion rescue package endorsed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of about 50 lawmakers who seek common solutions to issues.

The plan contains many elements of COVID rescue packages devised by both House Democrats and Republicans controlling the Senate, including aid to schools, funding for state and local governments, and renewal of lapsed COVID-related jobless benefits.

“We all need more relief. I think we all need more targeted relief at a minimum,” Gonzales said.

Congress has been deadlocked on what to do about another round of coronavirus aid since historically massive relief packages passed earlier this year. That inaction, Gonzales said, is having negative effects on businesses. Around 4 million small businesses have already exhausted funding received through the Paycheck Protection Plan, meant to keep workers on payroll while businesses were shuttered or at reduced staff. The restaurant industry is on pace to lose more than $240 billion by the end of the year without additional relief, Gonzales said.

“The longer Congress is paralyzed by inaction the more storefronts on Main Street will close,” Gonzales said. “That’s what we’re calling the cost of inaction.”

Talks between Pelosi and the Trump administration broke down last month and there had been little optimism they would rekindle before Election Day. And last week, Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package.

Pelosi has maintained a hard line in negotiations and has been at odds with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She orchestrated passage of a $3.4 trillion COVID rescue package back in May, but the effort was immediately dismissed by Senate Republicans and the Trump administration.

Tuesday’s remarks, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, don’t mean that the speaker is adopting a more flexible position. She instead seems to be signaling continued determination to press ahead and won’t adjourn the House without an agreement with the administration.

Success is by no means guaranteed and many people on Capitol Hill remain very skeptical that an agreement between the White House and Democrats is likely before the election. Sen. Ted Cruz and others have predicted that no “meaningful” legislation will pass before Election Day.

“My sense is the clock is running out,” said Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “I don’t see any intention or desire on the part of the Democrat leadership at the moment — regardless of what their members are saying — to cooperate and to work together on a solution. I think they feel like they’ve got the issue and they want to try and ride it in November.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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