September 18, 2020

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US House will not return next week due to COVID-19 risk

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives will not return to Washington next week as planned, due to the continuing risk of coronavirus infection, a top House Democrat said on Tuesday, in a reversal of plans outlined only a day earlier.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the decision to keep the chamber on an extended recess after Hoyer discussed the situation with the official House physician. “The House physician’s view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking,” Hoyer told reporters.

On Monday, Hoyer’s office said on Twitter that lawmakers would return on May 4. But some House Democrats expressed unhappiness with the decision during a conference call.

Congress has not met in regular session since last month, though it has passed major coronavirus relief bills worth nearly $3 trillion, partly by using rules allowing bills to pass with just a small number of lawmakers present.

Hoyer said the House still intends to return soon to complete a new coronavirus response bill that Democrats have vowed to use as a vehicle for funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in federal assistance to state and local governments.

Hoyer said an amount requested by governors, $500 billion, was under discussion, but no decision had been made. Lawmakers have already provided $150 billion to state and local governments in previous legislation.

Pelosi, in a separate call with reporters, said Congress could consider separate packages for state versus local governments. Earlier on Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that state and local governments would see “massive” layoffs without more aid from Congress to keep police, firefighters, ambulance crews and other frontline workers on the job.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, said Tuesday he was open to talking about aid to states, but said it would be unfair to well-run states to bail out others guilty of “mismanagement.”

“I think there’s a big difference with a state that’s lost money because of COVID and a state that’s been run very badly for 25 years,” Trump said at the White House.

“We’d have to talk about things like payroll tax cuts,” Trump added, recalling one of his favorite proposals for helping the economy – cutting the “payroll tax” on workers’ gross earnings that is used to fund retirement programs.

With the Senate due to return to session on Monday, Hoyer pushed back on the suggestion that the House was not working while the Senate and White House are.

“As I understand it, the Senate is coming back so they can confirm judges, and confirm executive appointments. Now whether they are going to do any substantive legislation is another question,” he said. As for the White House, Hoyer said it was arguable whether its nightly news conferences on the coronavirus amounted to work.

In the interim before the House returns to Washington, Hoyer said he was seeking agreement with House Republicans on allowing committees to do their work remotely.

(Reuters)