Schumer Says Congress Might Consider More Covid Relief Depending on How Long Pandemic Lasts

Ken Cedeno | Reuters
  • The Senate passed the $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus and economic relief package on Saturday in a party line vote.
  • Another relief bill would likely face an even harder time in Congress.
  • Senate Democrats had to make several concessions to members of their own party to assure passage of the latest bill.
  • Republicans have cited the strengthening economy, highlighted by this week's jobs report, for opposing more federal aid.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated on Saturday that congressional Democrats might consider more stimulus depending on how the economy and pandemic progress in the coming months, after the Senate passed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

"It's a very strong bill, part of it will depend on Covid," said Schumer, D-N.Y, when asked by a reporter whether this was the last Covid stimulus package Congress would pass.

"How long will it last, will there be a new strain? Part of it will depend on — the economy has some underlying weaknesses that need bolstering. How deep and weak are those?" the Senate leader asked.

"Our No. 1 lodestar is going to be helping the American people, and if they need more help we'll do another bill. If this bill is sufficient, and I think it's going to help in a big way, then we won't do another bill," he said.

Many Republicans opposed the current legislation citing recent signs of recovery, including a stronger than expected February jobs report on Friday.

"This isn't a pandemic rescue package. It's a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during a pandemic," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Friday.

Still, roughly 8.5 million fewer people are employed than in the previous year.

Coronavirus infections and deaths have decreased significantly since the catastrophic winter surge, but remain stubbornly high compared to last summer and fall. Public health officials and experts warn the future remains uncertain and the U.S. could face another surge as more infectious Covid variants emerge.

The U.S. is currently facing more than 61,000 new infections a day on average, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. During the holidays, the U.S. was seeing more than 200,000 new cases a day at one point. More than 1,800 people are currently dying a day from the virus on average. From January through early February, more than 3,000 people were dying a day on average.

Democrats had to make several compromises to assure the legislation had the votes to be passed, including from within their own party, such as moderate Democrat and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Compromises that angered the progressive wing of the Democratic Party include reduced income limits for Covid stimulus payments and a scaled back weekly jobless benefit from the federal government of $300, which Democrats had hoped to increase to $400.

Republicans attacked the $350 billion in state, local and tribal aid, along with the $170 billion set aside for K-12 schools and higher education.

The legislation passed the Senate on a 50-49 party line vote, which sends it back to the House for final approval on Tuesday.

Democrats were hoping to have President Biden sign the legislation by March 14 before unemployment aid programs expire.

"It's not a moment too soon," President Biden said on Saturday in remarks delivered at the White House after the vote. "Everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and meet the most urgent needs of the nation." 

He said stimulus checks will start going out this month and the legislative package also will speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, and he believes the U.S. will have enough vaccines for adults by the middle of May. 

"This plans puts us on a path to beating the virus. This plan gives those families who are struggling the most, the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment. And this plan gives small business in this country a fighting chance to survive. And one more thing, this plan is historic ... this plan will make it possible to cut child poverty in half." 

"We need this to grow the economy," Biden said.

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