Hoyer: House should vote on COVID-19 aid — with or without a bipartisan deal

Hoyer: House should vote on COVID-19 aid — with or without a bipartisan deal
© Bonnie Cash

The second-ranking House Democrat is amplifying calls for the lower chamber to vote on a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill in the coming days — even absent a deal with the White House. 

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTop Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Md.), the House majority leader, said he's hoping for an eleventh-hour bipartisan deal on another round of emergency stimulus — something that can pass through the Republican-controlled Senate and win President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE's signature.

But the sides remain far apart on the size and scope of the next package. And if no agreement emerges, Hoyer wants Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.) to stage a vote on a Democratic proposal — something in the range of $2.2 trillion — before the House leaves Washington for the last stretch of the campaign.


That strategy would not only increase the pressure on Senate GOP leaders to address the widespread health and economic devastation caused by the deadly pandemic, Hoyer said. It would also help Democrats — particularly vulnerable moderates in tough races — boost their case that Republicans have failed to respond to the ongoing crisis at the expense of constituents.

"There may not be any agreement; there may not be an ability to put a bill together in that time frame. But I have been urging for some weeks that we do an alternative response to the Senate," Hoyer said on a press call.

"Not because I think we ought to negotiate with ourselves," he added. "But ... the Speaker has set the amount of resources that we're prepared to deal with. And I think we ought to put that into legislation and ... give it to the Senate. The Senate will do with it what they will, but I hope they will pass it and send it to the president and he'll sign it."

Hoyer's comments arrive as a growing number of Democrats — centrist and liberals alike — are urging party leaders to seal a deal with the White House on a stimulus deal that they can carry back to voters ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. Individual lawmakers are all over the board, however, when it comes to a specific strategy.

Some are demanding an agreement, even if it's much smaller than the Democrats' initial demands. Others are backing Pelosi's hard-line demand for $2.2 trillion, and no vote before an agreement is reached. And still others, like Hoyer, want to vote on a partisan bill if the negotiations fail to bear fruit before the House recesses on Oct. 2.


"I think we ought to be taking up COVID-19 legislation before we leave here, and I don't think we ought to wait," Hoyer said. "People are really hurting."

Amid the debate, increasingly anxious moderate Democrats are weighing the possibility of endorsing a long-shot Republican gambit to force a vote on a sliver of coronavirus relief — help for small businesses — via a discharge petition. 

Hoyer on Wednesday warned his troops against signing the petition, saying it would simply undermine the Democrats' negotiating strength. Instead, he suggested that those lawmakers join him in calling for a stimulus vote within the next 10 days.

"I would hope that no Democrat would sign a discharge petition, which turns over control of the House floor to the other party, the minority party," he said. "But what I hope they would do is urge that we pass a bill which reflects — perhaps it means a substantial reduction in what we thought was necessary — but nevertheless dealing with all of the issues that are critical if we're going to confront COVID-19 and building the economy." 

That bill, Hoyer said, should be comprehensive "because we need a comprehensive response, not a piecemeal response."

In May, House Democrats passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. The massive $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package featured almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars for testing, jobless benefits, direct cash payments to individuals, food stamps, rental assistance, and election security, among a host of other provisions.

Republicans in the Senate and White House balked at the size of the Democratic package, which they deemed excessive. In response, Senate Republicans initially proposed a $1.1 trillion counteroffer, before voting on a much smaller $650 billion package. Senate Democrats quickly shot down the measure, calling it "emaciated."

Pelosi has since offered to cut the price tag of the Democratic package down to $2.2 trillion. But Republicans have refused to go that high, and the Speaker has not signaled a readiness to vote on a partisan bill if no agreement is reached. Instead, Pelosi has vowed to keep the House in session, ready to call lawmakers back to Washington if a deal surfaces after Oct. 2.

Hoyer suggested it would be a mistake to let next week pass without a vote on a Democratic bill — "an alternative," he said, "that deals with all of the issues that we dealt with in HEROES, albeit at lesser numbers and lesser time frames."

"And then we'll see what happens in the election."