Pelosi previews House coronavirus stimulus as Senate hits roadblocks
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday offered an early glimpse of House Democrats’ sweeping proposal to boost the crippled economy amid the coronavirus crisis, presenting it as a family-focused alternative to the Senate Republicans’ package, which Democrats deem too friendly to corporations.
The Speaker said she still intends to have the House return to Washington to vote on the package but suggested such a step might not be necessary if Senate negotiators can seal a deal on the upper chamber’s bill that wins the support of her House caucus.
“That’s our hope, yes, but we’ll see what the Senate does,” Pelosi said from the Speaker’s balcony in the Capitol.
House Democrats want to expand funding for unemployment insurance, offer student loan relief, extend the reach of food stamps and bar corporations that receive federal help from buying back stocks or firing employees, among other provisions. The bill would also expand worker safety protections — like those governing the front-line medical workers dealing with infected patients — and require the Trump administration to enforce them.
The House bill, which is expected to be unveiled later Monday, arrives as Senate lawmakers are scrambling to break an impasse over a massive package designed to shore up the economy against the fallout caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has crashed markets, shuttered businesses and sparked mass layoffs across the country.
Senate leaders and White House economic officials had huddled all weekend in search of an agreement, but the sides remained far apart on Sunday, when Democrats united to prevent a GOP bill from advancing toward a final vote. Despite another round of talks Monday morning, Democrats blocked the measure a second time on Monday afternoon.
Democrats in both chambers have raised numerous objections with the Republican bill, saying it leans too heavily in favor of corporations while neglecting more vulnerable populations — including seniors, students and low- and middle-income workers — hit hardest by the crisis.
Pelosi summed up the Democrats’ objections in a sentence.
“The Senate Republican bill put corporations first,” she said.
The Democrats’ bill — crafted after weeks of conference calls with leaders, committee heads, rank-and-file members and outside groups — provides billions of dollars for scarce medical equipment, like masks and ventilators; expands unemployment insurance and paid leave; boosts the child and earned income tax credits; and gives grants to states to protect November’s elections by expanding early voting and creating a universal mail-in-ballot system.
The package also includes a host of liberal provisions that have little chance of making it into the final package, including tax credits to promote green energy and mandatory emissions reductions for the airlines set to receive federal help. Republicans wasted no time hammering those items as superfluous to the crisis at hand.
“Are you kidding me?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday. “This is not a juicy political opportunity. This is a national emergency.”
McConnell has sought to exclude Pelosi from the Senate negotiations over the enormous stimulus bill, which represents Congress’s third round of coronavirus relief in as many weeks. He’s been quick to note that the second phase — a $100 billion package expanding coronavirus testing, unemployment insurance and paid leave for affected workers — was passed by the Senate, without changes, following negotiations between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
McConnell’s strategy, however, has been so far ineffective, as Pelosi has been working in unison with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) throughout the Senate talks. And Pelosi, along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), joined the discussion in person Sunday morning in McConnell’s office, which ended with the sides still far apart and Pelosi vowing to press forward with her own House bill.
A visibly angry McConnell addressed the chamber later in the day to blame Pelosi for scuttling negotiations he said should be left to the Senate.
“She is the Speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Senate — we don’t have one,” he said. “We were doing just fine until that intervention.”
Yet any legislation passed by the Senate must also go through Pelosi’s House to reach the president’s desk, giving her enormous leverage in the debate. And the battle, in a large sense, has evolved into a blame game as both sides race to fill the massive package — now approaching $2 trillion — with provisions favorable to their competing constituencies.
McConnell and the Republicans believe they have the upper hand, since its been the Democrats to block the Senate bill twice in the last 48 hours.
“I assure you,” McConnell said just before Monday’s vote, “the American people will be watching.”
Democrats counter that the public will be outraged by the corporate benefits in the GOP bill, thereby shifting blame for the impasse on the Republicans.
“These old senators don’t know how to deal with a very strong woman and she will torch them that they were trying to take care of corporate America and not people,” said one Democratic strategist.
What happens next remains unclear. Schumer and Mnuchin continued their negotiations following Monday’s failed vote, and Schumer has said the legislation will move quickly through the Senate if the sides reach an agreement.
That leaves open the possibility that the Senate package could pass through the House by a mechanism known as unanimous consent, which would make it unnecessary for House lawmakers to return to Washington amid growing anxieties about pubic travel and gathering in large groups.
Asked about that scenario on Monday, Pelosi was noncommittal.
“There are too many theoreticals there,” she said.
Updated at 3:50 p.m.