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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America is facing its worst rate of new coronavirus infections — and widespread sickness is expected to be compounded by economic pain from the necessary lockdown measures, much like we saw earlier this year.

Why it matters: What's different now is the lack of near-term hope for stimulus as the country tries to control the virus — at a time when economists say it's critical to mitigate fallout for the unemployed, businesses and municipalities.

  • The key will be whether "policymakers in Congress can extend the income bridge" and prevent "a second-round negative impact on the economy from the deterioration in state and local budgets," economists at Brean Capital said in a client note.

The big questions: If and when Congress will make progress on a deal. And what the Fed can do — or will do — on its own to provide economic support.

  • Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve and Congress have been pointing fingers at one another to step in.

On one side: Fed chair Jerome Powell has for months hinted at Congress in public comments — noting that an economic recovery could stall without additional fiscal support.

  • He's claimed over and over the Fed has "lending not spending powers," meaning it can't dole out aid in the form of cash or grants — what's most needed for struggling entities — the way Congress can.

On the other side: Democrats have been advocating for the Fed to extend its emergency relief programs set to expire next month — a fight that could come to a head in coming weeks.

  • Democrats "are eyeing the programs as a backup option if they can’t strike a deal to aid states and localities," the New York Times reported last week.

Driving the news: Two more states put partial lockdowns in place over the weekend through early December.

  • Michigan and Washington State said they will ban indoor dining and shut down some entertainment venues.
  • In Michigan, high schools and colleges are ordered to move online, while people are mandated work from home where possible.

Between the lines: So far, the lockdown measures aren’t as stringent as earlier this year. But they will curb economic activity.

  • "This bodes badly for businesses as they are unlikely to have the same fiscal support they received over the summer as Congress and the White House remain at an impasse on stimulus negotiations," Joseph Song, senior U.S. economist at Bank of America, wrote in a note on Friday.
  • "More businesses will be at risk of permanently going out of business, which would dampen labor demand and potentially spur new rounds of layoffs," Song said.

What to watch: Powell did acknowledge that along with Congress, the Fed will "likely need to do more," during a virtual panel with Europe and England's central bank chiefs last week.

  • The Fed could announce more policy responses at its meeting in December or possibly before, "with COVID-19 intensifying and fiscal stimulus caught in the Bermuda triangle of a partisan, lame duck Congress," Standard Chartered Bank's Steve Englander predicted in a note on Friday.
  • Englander expects the Fed to increase the pace of bond buying, which Powell alluded to at the policy meeting earlier this month. The Fed could also "add targeted measures to encourage credit provision to struggling businesses, limited to loans on good collateral."

But, but, but: Englander doesn't see these "measures as substitutes for fiscal policy, but somewhat effective measures are preferable to no measures" for the Fed.

Go deeper

Janet Yellen plays down debt, tax hike concerns in confirmation hearing

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen at an event in December. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Janet Yellen, Biden's pick to lead the Treasury Department, pushed back against two key concerns from Republican senators at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday: the country's debt and the incoming administration's plans to eventually raise taxes.

Driving the news: Yellen — who's expected to win confirmation — said spending big now will prevent the U.S. from having to dig out of a deeper hole later. She also said the Biden administration's priority right now is coronavirus relief, not raising taxes.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

Scoop: Leaked HHS docs spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

A group of undocumented immigrants walk toward a Customs and Border Patrol station after being apprehended. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.