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Law360 (April 3, 2020, 4:27 PM EDT) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday backed away from House Democrats' plan to include hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure funding in Congress' next coronavirus relief bill, instead calling for a simpler package that further extends unemployment insurance and small business support.
Her comments showed a sharp shift from just one day earlier, when she reiterated a plan to use massive infrastructure investments as economic stimulus. While President Donald Trump has endorsed that approach, congressional Republicans have been wary. Jobs numbers on Thursday and Friday may have prompted the focus on a narrower measure.
"While I'm very much in favor of doing some of the things that we need to do to meet the needs — clean water, more broadband and the rest of that — that may have to be for a bill beyond this," Pelosi said in a CNBC interview Friday.
"Right now, we need a fourth bipartisan bill. And I think the bill could be very much like the bill we just passed," she added, referring to the measure Trump signed March 27 with over $2 trillion in relief. "I would like to go right back and say, let's look at that bill, let's update it for what some other things that we need, and again, put money in the pockets of the American people."
The speaker called for more rounds of direct payments to most Americans, as both relief and a stimulus for consumer spending, along with a longer extension of boosted unemployment insurance benefits — from the four months in the recent bill to six months.
She called for an extension of the latest law's Paycheck Protection Program, which provides partially forgivable loans to small and midsize businesses that keep paying their workers. She also wanted more mortgage forbearance and further temporary limits on evictions. And she urged more funding for the District of Columbia, which received less funding than any state despite having more residents than two states.
In terms of new policies, Pelosi again mentioned an occupational safety standard for front-line health care workers and ensuring cost-free treatment for coronavirus patients. She has also consistently sought assistance for multiemployer pension plans at risk of insolvency.
Pelosi suggested such a relief package could move quickly through Congress. Both chambers plan to return to Washington on April 20.
"We don't need a long time to figure out what we need to do next," she said. "We know. And we have a model."
Republican leaders in Congress have sought to pump the brakes on another big response, calling for time to gauge the impact of the massive relief bill that became law last month.
"The speaker is talking about a fourth bill. I do not think that is appropriate at this time. We just passed three bills," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Thursday. "The focus of the House needs to be right now, how do we implement [them and] make sure we get it right. This is a great deal of money."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sounded a similar note during an interview Tuesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
"We need to see what the effect of the current bill is," McConnell said, adding that he's "not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass."
--Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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