House Democrats push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus

House Democratic leaders are racing ahead with plans to craft another round of massive coronavirus relief, promoting a huge job-creation package despite growing objections from Republicans wary of piling costs atop an already unprecedented stimulus effort.

The Democrats’ nascent legislation aims to fill voids in the first three massive coronavirus bills, providing new funding for hard-hit states; ensuring that medical providers have ample supplies; and expanding paid leave for home-bound workers.

Yet the central thrust of the emerging legislation will be an enormous boost in infrastructure funding, designed both to create jobs amid the economic downturn and bolster the nation’s health, transportation, broadband and education systems — networks exposed as woefully insufficient, the Democrats argue, by the swift-moving pandemic.

“We need to invest in our infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been laid bare by the coronavirus,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday on a phone call with reporters. “We can create millions of good-paying jobs building the infrastructure and by strengthening commerce and reducing air pollution that harms the public health.”

The ultimate size of the Democrats’ bill remains unclear. But the still-evolving legislation will build on a $760 billion infrastructure proposal unveiled by the Democrats in January, which features new funding for roads, high-speed rail, airports and broadband networks around the country.

Specific to the current coronavirus crisis, Democrats are also adding $10 billion for community health centers and increased funds for broadband, with additional boosts in education and housing coffers to be announced in the coming days.

“Make no mistake, this is an incredible economic blow to America,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “What we’ve done [already] has mitigated some of that damage, but we’re going to need a longer-term recovery package and we have to be more resilient in the future.”

The Democrats’ pitch got a huge boost on Tuesday, when President Trump — who had won the White House on vows to adopt sweeping public works improvements — promoted a $2 trillion infrastructure package as the next phase of coronavirus response.

Yet a growing number of Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — have been cold to the idea that more action is needed, arguing that Congress should wait to see the effect of the $2 trillion relief package, enacted just last Friday, before charging ahead with another round of emergency aid.

“Number one, I’m not interested in any more of Speaker Pelosi’s spending porn — or any other member of Congress, for that matter,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Wednesday on an interview with Fox News. “Number two, we just spent, with the leverage, $4 trillion. We ought to see if it works.”

Democrats are rejecting that argument, noting that Republicans adopted a $1.5 trillion tax cut amid a healthy economy during Trump’s first years in office.

“This is investment, this is capital. We can justify this more than tax cuts, we can justify this even more than some of the mitigation we did in [phase three],” DeFazio said. “The multiplier effect is extraordinary.”

House Democrats had hinged their successful 2018 campaign on a message of health care, jobs and infrastructure, and a sweeping public works package was already a priority item this year, even pre-pandemic. The arrival of the crisis has given new urgency to that push, and Trump’s endorsement has provided new fuel, despite the reservations from GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” the president tweeted Tuesday. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”

Pelosi’s relationship with Trump has been chilly since the Democrats’ launched their impeachment effort last year, but the Speaker said Wednesday that Democrats have “had overtures from the administration” on a Phase IV package — “and we’ll be working to get that done,” she added.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, meanwhile, said Wednesday that Trump “very much wants to rebuild the country,” and Mnuchin has been in “ongoing conversations” with House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) about securing a bipartisan deal.

“We’ll continue to have those conversations, so we expect there will be more bills,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “And we think it is a great time now to invest in infrastructure.”

A number of the provisions outlined by the Democrats on Wednesday were included in their $2.5 trillion Phase III relief package, and are sure to be controversial. Pelosi, for instance, promoted new funding to help states shift to all-mail ballots ahead of November’s elections, as well as a cash infusion for the U.S. Postal Service — provisions hammered by Republicans as extraneous to the coronavirus crisis.

In addition, Democrats want to provide hundreds of millions of dollars more to the District of Columbia, which was deemed a territory in the Phase III bill, rather than a state. And they also want to confront climate change in their infrastructure package, with provisions to modernize the electric grid, build high-speed rail lines, develop charging stations for electric vehicles across the national highway system and provide incentives for weatherizing homes.

“I know that Mitch McConnell and others are pooh-poohing this. but I believe climate change, even in times of coronavirus, is an existential threat,” DeFazio said. “If you’ve got to rebuild it, rebuild it the right way.”

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump John Kennedy Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Peter DeFazio Richard Neal Steven Mnuchin

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