House Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus
House Democrats are indicating they want to go bigger and broader than the already massive economic stimulus package offered by Senate Republicans to blunt the coronavirus pandemic.
On a Thursday conference call featuring more than 200 members of the House Democratic caucus, lawmakers one by one laid out a sweeping wish list of provisions they want to see included in the nascent package, including a boost in infrastructure spending, an expansion of Social Security benefits and funding for states to set up an all-mail voting system in the event the pandemic extends into November’s elections.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told lawmakers, according to a source on the call.
Many of those proposals transcend the scope of the $1 trillion package introduced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which features cash payments to individuals, low-cost loans for small businesses, new funding to boost the health care system, and a financial lifeline for the hardest hit industries, like aviation and cruise lines.
And while not all of the Democratic proposals are likely to emerge in the final House package — legislation that is being crafted by party leaders and various committee heads — they foreshadow a showdown with McConnell and the White House over the size and direction of the latest relief bill, the third to be considered this month as policymakers scramble to prevent the spread of the virus.
McConnell has warned that he wants to limit the proposal to addressing the most immediate economic damage created by the pandemic.
“Anything that doesn’t address that pandemic, it seems to me, should not be considered,” he said.
Yet that could set the chambers on a collision course over what provisions fit that benchmark, as House Democrats press for a wide range of relief provisions that include a broader expansion of unemployment benefits, a boost in Social Security payments and new funding for job training.
“We want to make sure that we get adequate relief to people who need it most, and that there be some economic sideboards on the things we do, so that we’re not just sending checks to wealthy people who don’t need money, so that we’re not just rewarding corporations,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who was on the caucus call, said Thursday by phone.
“Some of these elements are going to be common to both parties and both houses,” he added. “My guess is that they’re going to be some pretty strong differences, though, when it comes to certain industries and how we provide economic relief.”
On the call, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she had spoken to numerous governors, who had told her they were seeing barriers to their constituents being able to access unemployment insurance. She suggested declaring a disaster, which could remove some of those obstacles and bureaucratic red tape.
“Let’s not worry about the cost. It’s an investment in the health of the economy,” Pelosi told Democratic lawmakers.
The Speaker, whose San Francisco district has been hard hit by the crisis, urged her members to continue to pitch their ideas to committee chairs, but urged them to do it quickly.
“Time is of the essence,” she said.
The ideas offered Thursday ran the gamut.
Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), who just finished a 14-day self-quarantine after being exposed to someone with the virus, proposed that the federal government offer death benefits to families of TSA officers who die from the coronavirus.
Another California Democrat, veteran Rep. Brad Sherman, said the government must provide financial incentives for companies to pursue “risky and unprofitable research” aimed at finding a coronavirus vaccine.
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) said he backed sweeping infrastructure legislation by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and proposed tying it to the coronavirus package.
Meanwhile, Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader, suggested the deadly outbreak — which has confined millions of children and adults to their homes — has illuminated a need to secure 100 percent broadband coverage, including for schools and rural communities. That funding is especially crucial, Democrats argued, considering the mass closure of schools and the attempt at mobile learning that has followed.
Other Democrats took the opportunity to voice concerns about what they didn’t want in the $1 trillion-plus package.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), whose Bay Area constituents are under a lockdown, said the legislation should not include any bailouts for the cruise industry, which she argued already has an extremely low tax rate of about 1 percent.
McConnell, who needs Democratic support to move the legislation through the Senate, is set to begin negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday. But the GOP leader has made clear he doesn’t want to expand those talks to include Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders, who negotiated the second phase of coronavirus relief, signed by President Trump on Wednesday.
Yet any new stimulus package will need the backing of the majority House Democrats to reach the president’s desk. And Pelosi has asked House committee chairs to begin compiling proposals as Democrats craft their own measure.
It’s leverage that hasn’t been overlooked by the Democrats as the negotiations enter a crucial stage and both sides are stressing the urgency of reaching an agreement.
“You’re obviously not going to get a package done without Speaker Pelosi having a huge role in it. There’s just not a way for that to work, nor should there be,” said Huffman. “The House has been the lead on this from day one, and I don’t see any reason why we would suddenly step back and let Mitch McConnell drive the ship.”
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