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As 4th virus relief bill nears passage, fight looms over 5th

President Donald Trump speaks with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) outside of the Oval Office after a tree planting ceremony in recognition of Earth Day and Arbor Day on the South Lawn of the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(AP) — Congress is on the verge of passing an almost $500 billion
coronavirus relief bill, but battle lines already are forming over the
next measure amid growing demands to approve additional billions for
state and local governments, the Postal Service and even infrastructure.

talk of a fifth measure is running into early opposition from
conservatives, chiefly Senate Republicans, who warn the spending spree
cannot go on indefinitely. The GOP senators saw their request to
replenish a Paycheck Protection Program nearly double in size, as
Democrats persuaded President Donald Trump to support additional funding
for underbanked communities, health providers and a national testing

So far, big spending is carrying the day, pushing the
projected deficit for the current year past $3 trillion — more than
double the previous record from the Great Recession.

The House is
expected to vote Thursday on the latest, $483 billion measure, already
passed by the Senate, which as its centerpiece would add $321 billion to
replenish a small-business payroll fund, while pumping more money into
hospitals and testing.Trump says he’ll sign it into law.

of the Paycheck Protection Program warn that this week’s refill may
only last a few days, likely putting business groups back at
Washington’s doorstep, along with the nation’s governors and the
cash-strapped Postal Service.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
D-Calif., said in an interview Wednesday on Bloomberg Television that
more funding for state and local governments — there’s already $150
billion allocated in last month’s $2 trillion coronavirus package —
means support for “the health care worker, the police and fire, the
first responders, the emergency services people, the teachers in our
schools, the transportation workers who get vital, essential workers to

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile,
is testing the brakes. After Tuesday’s Senate vote, McConnell said there
will be a lengthy Senate debate on the next package before billions
more in spending will move through his chamber.

“We haven’t had
much discussion about adding $2.7 trillion to the national debt, and the
way that could indeed also threaten the future of the country,”
McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Trump has said
he supports including fiscal relief for state and local government in
another virus aid package along with infrastructure projects, but
McConnell said the Senate is “going to push the pause button here.”

are not ready to send a “blank check” to the states, McConnell said.
“We all have governors regardless of party who would love to have free
money,” he said.

McConnell said he sees “no good reason” why laws
shouldn’t be changed to allow states to enter into bankruptcy
proceedings, which they are now unable to do.

Such a suggestion is highly unlikely and governors delivered swift blowback.

Andrew Cuomo, who has warned New York will lose anywhere from $10
billion to $15 billion in revenues during the epidemic, called it “one
of the saddest, really dumb comments of all time.”

In a radio
appearance Wednesday, Cuomo said: “You want to reopen the economy, Mr.
McConnell, so everyone gets their job back? But the people you put in
charge of reopening, the governors and the states, should declare

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said: “Really? This is
the time, in a moment of crisis unlike any our country has faced in at
least 100 years, to suggest it’s a good thing for states to go

“Come on, man. That is completely and utterly irresponsible,” Murphy said.

the It’s not clear how soon the next bill can advance. There’s also the
question of when Pelosi and McConnell feel comfortable reopening
Capitol Hill, though Trump has signaled he wants discussions to begin as
soon as Congress finishes the current legislation. The Senate is
scheduled to return May 4.

The Senate passed the bill by voice
vote on Tuesday, and the House is expected to pass it overwhelmingly in a
roll call vote Thursday.

Most of the bill’s funding, $331
billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that
ran out of money last week. There would be $100 billion for health care,
with $75 billion to hospitals and $25 billion to boost testing for the
virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state
economies. There is $60 billion for small-business loans and grants.

demands for additional funds for hospitals and virus testing in the
states became more pressing and eventually gained support from

Of the $25 billion for increased testing efforts, at
least $11 billion goes to state and tribal governments to detect and
track new infections. The rest will help fund federal research into new
coronavirus testing options.

Currently, the U.S. has tested
roughly 4 million people for the virus, or just over 1% of its
population, according to the Covid Tracking Project website.

centerpiece of the deal remains the small-business payroll program. It
provides forgivable loans so shops can continue paying workers while
businesses remain closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

just weeks ago, the Paycheck Protection Program quickly reached its
lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left
thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.

Among the targets for the next bill is the Postal Service, which has more than 600,000 workers, mostly covered under union-negotiated contracts, but is hamstrung financially by COVID-19-related revenue losses and pension funding requirements.

Associated Press writers Marina Villanueve in New York and Mike Catalini in Morrisville, Pa., contributed to this report.