House Democrats unveil $3 trillion coronavirus relief package
House Democrats unveiled an 1,815-page, $3 trillion coronavirus relief package on Tuesday that includes a grab bag of Democratic priorities and is intended to put pressure on Republicans to start negotiations on help for workers and local governments.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill on Friday, but it is dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate and is not expected to get any Republican support in the House.
That will put the onus on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to stave off reservations from progressives who have called for more expansive proposals to help struggling workers.
It includes a number of provisions championed by liberals, including funding for food assistance and state and local governments, which have been pleading for help during the pandemic.
It also includes another round of direct stimulus payments to individuals, hazard pay for essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic and money to help allow voters to mail in ballots for the November elections.
But the bill does not include a proposal championed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to provide direct federal grants to businesses to help with paying rent and fully maintaining workers’ salaries up to $100,000.
She and caucus co-chairman Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked in a letter to Democratic leaders Tuesday that the Friday vote be delayed. They said the House Democratic Caucus should meet “to discuss the bill and any amendments that might be needed to ensure that it truly reflects the priorities and the work of the entire caucus.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the idea “has great merit to it” and indicated that Democrats might consider it in future legislation.
“This is not going to be the last word, or the final word, as we go forward,” Hoyer said.
The legislation would represent the biggest coronavirus relief package since the $2.2 trillion measure signed into law by President Trump in March.
“We must think big for the people now, because if we don’t it will cost more in lives and livelihood later,” Pelosi said during an address in the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw cold water on the plan, saying Republican senators are working on their own “major package.”
The GOP leader, who previously called for a “pause” in coronavirus relief funding, said Republicans would insist on “narrowly targeted” legislation “if and when we do legislate again.”
He said the House bill “is not something designed to deal with reality, but designed to deal with aspirations.
“This is not a time for aspirational legislation, this is a time for practical response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The new bill would provide a 15 percent increase to the maximum food stamp benefit, as well as $150 million to help local food banks meet increased demand due to laid off or furloughed workers. It includes $100 billion to provide emergency assistance for low-income renters at risk of eviction.
The bill would provide a new round of stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per individual, or up to $6,000 per household. Individuals making up to $75,000 annually and married couples making $150,000 would be eligible for the maximum amount.
All dependents would be eligible for payments, instead of only children under 17, meaning that college students and adult dependents would qualify.
It also includes a provision to prevent checks and related notices from including the names of the president, Cabinet members or other elected officials, in response to the administration putting Trump’s name on the first round of checks and notices of payment.
The Democrats’ bill would extend the $600 a week in added unemployment insurance payments included in an earlier relief bill through January.
And it would offer multiple ways for Americans to get health insurance if they lose their jobs or weren’t enrolled before the pandemic began. One option would establish a two-month open enrollment period for people to get health care under the Affordable Care Act.
A separate provision would provide subsidies through January for workers to maintain employer-sponsored coverage for people who lose their jobs or are furloughed.
Yet another measure would allow employers of essential workers such as medical personnel, first responders and grocery store clerks to apply for grants to pay those workers hazard pay amounting to an extra $13 per hour.
The bill also includes $915 billion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. Another $755 million would be allotted for the District of Columbia, which argued it was shortchanged in an earlier bill.
The legislation provides $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and other measures to monitor the spread of COVID-19, as well as $100 billion in grants for hospitals and medical providers to reimburse health care related expenses.
It further calls for a comprehensive testing strategy that includes requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to specifically outline levels of testing necessary to effectively control the virus.
The bill also provides $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service.
And it would restrict Trump’s ability to dismiss inspectors general by only allowing them to be removed for specific reasons such as neglect of duty, knowingly violating laws, abuse of authority or a felony conviction.
Trump last month removed the inspector general for the intelligence community — who had alerted Congress to the whistleblower complaint that led to the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — as well as the acting inspector general at the Defense Department, who had been named as chairman of a congressionally mandated commission to oversee the coronavirus relief implementation.
The House is also expected to vote Friday on rules changes to allow lawmakers to vote remotely and conduct committee work virtually. House Democrats are planning to vote on permitting proxy voting, which would allow absent lawmakers to authorize colleagues physically present in the Capitol to cast votes on their behalf.
Updated at 8:25 p.m.