Coronavirus: In reversal, Pelosi suggests infrastructure may have to wait in favor of small business relief

Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested on Friday that a sweeping modernization of US infrastructure to help mitigate the coronavirus damage could take a back seat — again — to the needs of struggling small businesses and the overstretched health care system in the next legislative relief package.

That’s a reversal from the position the Speaker and other Democratic leaders have carved out over the last week. Ms Pelosi, other Democratic leaders, and even Donald Trump have been angling in recent days to include measures in the next coronavirus response bill that would pump hundreds of billions of dollars — or, in the president’s case, trillions — into programs to expand broadband internet access, clean up US water systems, and revamp highways.

But Ms Pelosi appeared to face a new reality on Friday that small businesses will need paying customers to get back on their feet, and the government must do more to make sure American consumers have cash to spend.

“While I’m very much in favor of doing some of the things that we need to do to meet the needs — clean water, more broadband and the rest of that — that may have to be for a bill beyond this right now,” Ms Pelosi said in an interview with CNBC on Friday.

The third coronavirus legislative response package, which Congress passed and the president signed into law last week, included more than $350bn in small business relief in the form of loans that could be forgiven up to 100 per cent if businesses meet certain payroll and operational requirements.

Congress must provide billions more in the phase four bill, in addition to more cash payments than the $1,200 Treasury will begin sending out to taxpayers later this month, Ms Pelosi has said.

“The small business piece [is] very, very essential. But when these businesses say they survived [the health crisis] — they meet the criteria of keeping their employees on, they pay the rent, the utilities and the rest, and then their loan is forgiven — they still need customers,” Ms Pelosi said. “And again, money in the pockets of America’s working families. I doubt that they will have at least some resources. We are a consumer society. So let’s have them have the resources to consume.”

Yet another delay on beleaguered infrastructure negotiations is sure to frustrate Mr Trump, for whom the specter of a sweeping infrastructure deal is a key messaging point for his 2020 re-election campaign.

On Tuesday, the president took to Twitter to ask Congress to send him a “VERY BIG & BOLD” infrastructure bill worth $2trn that is “focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!”

But Capitol Hill Republicans have urged a wait-and-see approach until the phase three, $2.2trn law from last week has taken full effect before they begin negotiating a fourth response bill.

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