No end in sight, Congress confronts new virus crisis rescue

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FILE - In this May 22, 2020, file photo the Dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is visible through heavy fog in Washington. With COVID-19 cases hitting alarming new highs and a grim rising death toll, the pandemic's devastating cycle is happening all over again, leaving Congress little choice but to engineer another costly rescue. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – It stands as the biggest economic rescue in U.S. history, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill swiftly approved by Congress in the spring. And it's painfully clear now, as the pandemic worsens, it was only the start.

With COVID-19 cases hitting alarming new highs and the death roll rising, the pandemic's devastating cycle is happening all over again, leaving Congress little choice but to engineer another costly rescue. Businesses are shutting down, schools cannot fully reopen and jobs are disappearing, all while federal emergency aid expires. Without a successful federal plan to control the outbreak, Congress heads back to work with no endgame to the crisis in sight.

“It’s not going to magically disappear,” said a somber Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during a visit to a hospital in his home state to thank front-line workers.

Lawmakers return Monday to Washington to try to pull the country back from the looming COVID-19 cliff. While the White House prefers to outsource much of the decision-making on virus testing and prevention to the states, the absence of a federal intervention has forced the House and Senate to try to draft another assistance package.

It's a massive undertaking, hardly politically popular, but the alternative is worse. Experts predict an even more dire public health outlook for winter. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, says the U.S. needs to “regroup.”

As McConnell prepares to roll out his $1 trillion-plus proposal, he acknowledges it will not have full support. Already the White House is suggesting changes, Republicans are divided and broader disagreements with Democrats could derail the whole effort.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., already pushed through a more sweeping $3 trillion relief bill to bolster virus testing, keep aid flowing and set new health and workplace standards for reopening schools, shops and workplaces.

She said recently she finds herself yearning for an earlier era of Republicans in the White House, saying tha despite differences, even with President Richard Nixon, who resigned facing impeachment, “At least we had a shared commitment to the governance of our country.”