Image for Congress Headed for Financial Relief, Police Reform Showdown

The Senate left town without acting on police reform or another round of coronavirus financial relief, while the House has now passed policing reform, DC statehood and infrastructure measures. The House already has approved $3 trillion in coronavirus financial relief and the Senate has voted to extend the availability of $1.3 billion remaining in the Paycheck Protection Program.

As lawmakers depart for the July 4th break, much of the nation is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 confirmed cases and hospitalizations, which has prompted pauses or delays in reopening plans, including closing bars, indoor dining and beaches in some hot-spot states such as Florida and California.

The surge in new cases nationwide, now around 40,000 daily and potentially headed toward an unthinkable 100,000 per day, is resurrecting calls for extended financial relief to stave off a deeper recession and setting up a post-recess congressional face-off on what and how much to do in response.

Grassroots pressure continues to build for national police reform. The Senate had planned to vote on its version of police reform this week, but Democratic opposition blocked the bill’s path to floor consideration.

The $1.5 trillion Democratic infrastructure measure includes reauthorization and expansion of the Surface Transportation Act, which expires in September.

The combination of these heavy-duty issues could fall under the weight of political gridlock or spark a political moment of partisan cooperation. A case could be made for either outcome. However, the case may be stronger for an improbable political moment.

First, the November election will be only weeks away and control of the Senate will hinge on a handful of GOP senators facing stiff re-election challenges in Maine, Arizona, Montana and Colorado and possible upsets in South Carolina and Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is being seriously challenged. Failing to address issues such as financial relief in the face of a continuing pandemic, police reforms and infrastructure investment could add to GOP re-election worries.

Those worries could intensify if the Supreme Court sides with some GOP governors, with the backing of the Trump White House, by ruling the Affordable Care Act is null and void, including its provisions to protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Employees who lost their jobs and their health insurance during the economic lockdown have enrolled in the Act’s marketplaces, which would go away, leaving them without any coverage – and Congress with very little time to enact a replacement.

Second, President Trump’s approval rating has dropped, which could persuade congressional Republicans to strike out on a more independent path and willingness to compromise with Democrats on financial relief, policing reform, infrastructure investment and possibly even health insurance legislation.

Finally, stalled economic reopening and consumer fears could cause deepening recessionary effects on businesses and state and local governments, making further federal intervention politically unavoidable.

It shapes up as a major-league political showdown in the halls of Congress.