After four Coronavirus-relief measures were quickly enacted into law, controversies are arising that threaten to thwart passage of a fifth bill that could be the vehicle for enhanced pay and benefits for many federal employees.
One major sticking point involves potential financial aid for the Postal Service, which has said that it is in danger of not being able to meet its payroll and other expenses as early as the fall.
One of the earlier relief bills included authority to borrow more from the Treasury, but many Democrats in Congress want to provide additional direct and indirect funding. The administration though has insisted on making policy changes a precondition for any further help, including raising rates charged for parcel delivery.
Democrats also have signaled that they want to include in a next bill a range of policy provisions, potentially including a temporary pay boost for federal employees and others in frontline positions; subsidies for dependent care costs of employees who are continuing to report to their regular duty stations even as schools and daycare centers are closed; mandated paid leave for employees in closed offices who cannot telework; and flexibility for employees to add or change insurance coverage.
Some Democrats are pushing for even more extensive changes, including mandatory payment of hazardous duty pay; mandatory telework for all those eligible; a presumption of eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits; and cancelation of the administration’s 2018 executive orders on union and disciplinary matters. That would echo an earlier proposal from House Democratic leadership that was set aside in the push to act the prior relief bills promptly; the White House likely would strongly oppose the latter provision in particular.
Another concern for some in Congress is the accumulated amount of additional spending, estimated in the hundreds of billions, which would be in addition to some $3 trillion in committed spending from the first four bills.
While such differences sometimes can be resolved in the regular legislative process, a complication is that Congress has been out of session for many weeks due to safety concerns, allowing for bills to pass only under a procedure that requires unanimous agreement. The House again has put off its return, which had been planned for next week.