WASHINGTON – A stronger than expected jobs report could further scramble an already uncertain picture for passing a fifth and possibly final coronavirus aid bill. The positive statistics are feeding the wait-and-see approach of the White House and its GOP allies in Congress.
Republicans say the numbers vindicate their decision to take a pause and assess the almost $3 trillion in assistance they already have approved. The White House was already showing little urgency about pursing another trillion-dollar response bill, much less the $3.5 trillion measure passed by the House last month, and prefers to concentrate on reopening the economy.
The coming weeks are expected to bring difficult negotiations over what the package should contain, just months before an election where the White House and control of Congress are at stake.
For lawmakers, tough decisions loom about how much money to allocate to states, how to extend unemployment benefits for millions of people and whether to create lawsuit protections for businesses and schools as they reopen during the pandemic.
Friday’s jobs report showed a 2.5 million gain instead of an expected loss of millions more, complicating prospects for the aid talks. Trump is difficult to gauge, but talks often of pursing public works spending and a payroll tax cut, which is a nonstarter on Capitol Hill.
“They are less than urgent, less than inclined for another package,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a GOP leader when his party was in the majority. “There is less urgency to go strike a hard deal — and this one would be a hard deal. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen, I just think the urgency is far lessened.”
Democrats looked at the jobs report and saw job losses for 600,000 public employees that are likely to worsen if Washington doesn’t help cash-starved state and local governments. Despite the positive jobs news, unemployment nationwide is at 13%, so the looming expiration of a supplemental $600 per week jobless benefit promises to provide a catalyst for action.
Top Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are united behind the $3.5 trillion “HEROES Act,” which contains party priorities such as jobless aid, another round of $1,200 checks and money for essential workers, local schools, colleges and people missing mortgages and rent payments.