Senate Recess Called Off as Lawmakers Work to Pass Virus Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) — As Washington scrambles for a legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Thursday he has pushed off a recess the Senate was scheduled to take next week.

The move comes amid uncertainty over a Democrat-proposed package in the House that would address various economic and public health concerns that have cropped up as the coronavirus outbreak has spread in the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to talk with reporters on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The proposal from Democrats would make testing for the coronavirus free, expand unemployment insurance and require employers to provide 14 days of emergency paid sick leave in response to the public health emergency. That, together with a separate family leave proposal, is meant to allow workers, especially those in low-wage hourly jobs that typically do not come with paid sick leave, to stay home without having to miss a paycheck if they or someone they care for is exposed to the virus.

In addition, the package includes more money for food stamps and other public food security programs and boosts funding for Medicaid.

As the Senate came into session Thursday morning, McConnell called the proposal an overshoot, accusing Democrats of putting “left-wing political messaging” over a response that can pass both houses of Congress.

The House was scheduled to pass the package around 2 p.m., but has postponed that vote amid ongoing conversations on the legislation. But with the House and Senate prepared to leave town next week for a previously scheduled recess, time was running out to send a bill to Trump’s desk.

Shortly before 1:30 p.m., McConnell said he supported Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and the Trump administration continuing conversations with House Democrats on the legislation and announced the Senate will not leave town next week as planned.

“Notwithstanding the scheduled state work period, the Senate will be in session next week,” McConnell said in a tweet. “I am glad talks are ongoing between the administration and Speaker Pelosi. I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.”

The White House earlier in the week pitched Senate Republicans on an array of economic responses, including a payroll tax cut and some type of paid leave plan. While Republicans seemed open to hearing about the proposals, the party did not coalesce around one particular idea.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said congressional offices are making preparations for telework and the Capitol joined the White House in limiting public access and tours of the facilities. The Supreme Court also announced Thursday that the courthouse will be closed to the public until further notice.

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