U.S. lawmakers are split on the next steps needed to handle the unprecedented economic challenges caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The $3 trillion aid bill passed last week in the Democratic-majority House of Representatives has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate before lawmakers leave Washington for the Memorial Day break. Negotiations on a compromise show few signs of progress.
"We need to assess what we've already done. Take a look at what worked and what didn't, and we'll discuss the way forward in the next couple of weeks," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
McConnell has cautioned that Congress should evaluate the impact of the first CARES Act, the largest relief package in U.S. history, before adding further to the national debt.
But even as most U.S. states begin phased reopenings of businesses and other public places, Democrats warn the crisis is far from over.
"Republicans have a long history of underestimating this crisis and the funds needed," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday.
"Leader McConnell said Republicans still want to pause. What planet are they on? The coronavirus isn't taking a pause. The job losses aren't taking a pause. The people being evicted from their homes aren't taking a pause. They seem to be ignoring all of the economic alarms that are sounding without further action," he continued.
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin painted a bleak picture of the economic devastation the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on the country, but said they held out hope a raft of loans and assistance to families and businesses would provide relief in the coming months.
"The job numbers will get worse before they get better," Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee in remote testimony from the Treasury Department.
Already, 36.5 million laid-off workers have filed for unemployment compensation, numbers not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Lawmakers pressed the two key economic officials about the pace of government relief and whether the hundreds of billions of dollars already approved by Congress have been dispersed to businesses in dire need of funding as they face imminent collapse.
"I would expect all the capital to be allocated," Mnuchin said. But he declined to assure one Democratic critic of the Trump administration, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, that companies would be required to give all laid-off workers their jobs back as the economy slowly recovers.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat and Trump administration critic, asked Mnuchin whether it was too soon.
"How many workers should give their lives to increase our (gross domestic product) by half a percent?" Brown asked.
"No workers should give their lives to do that, Mr. Senator, and I think your characterization is unfair," Mnuchin responded.
Powell added, "All of us are affected, but the burdens are falling most heavily on those least able to carry them. It is worth remembering that the measures taken to contain the virus represent an investment in our individual and collective health. As a society, we should do everything we can to provide relief to those who are suffering for the public good."
The Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate to near zero in March. Powell promised that the Fed expects "to maintain interest rates at this level until we are confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve our maximum-employment and price-stability goals."
Mnuchin said hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to families and businesses have been doled out already to ease the country's economic burden from the pandemic.
"We are sympathetic to hardworking Americans and businesses enduring tremendous challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Mnuchin said. "We have had to take unprecedented steps to shut down significant parts of the economy in the interest of public health."
The U.S. coronavirus death toll now tops 90,000, by far the biggest national total across the globe, with 143,000 expected to die by early August.