Jayapal offers solution to impasse on COVID aid: Make all states pay

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 about a resolution condemning Rep. Lauren Boebert's (R-Colo.) use of Islamaphobic rhetoric and removing her from her current committee assignments
Greg Nash
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the first Indian American woman elected to Congress, was the subject of hate speech on social media before a 49-year-old man was arrested outside her home in July 2022, allegedly threatening to kill her.

PHILADELPHIA — The head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is proposing a potential resolution to the impasse over billions of dollars in new pandemic relief the White House deems crucial: Make all 50 states cover the cost.

“That could have been one solution,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters during the the Democrats’ annual retreat here. “That’s not what happened.”

Jayapal was among the dozens of Democrats up in arms Wednesday morning when party leaders introduced a massive $1.5 trillion government spending package, including $13.6 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine and another $15.6 billion to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawmakers’ frustration was not with those figures, but the decision to cover roughly $7 billion of the health care costs by clawing back money previously allotted to states as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that President Biden signed into law a year ago.

Not every state was asked to chip in; only the roughly 30 states that were scheduled to receive their emergency funds in two blocks, rather than one. In that sense it was not “unspent” funding; it had simply not yet been delivered, Jayapal said.

“That is not unspent money; that is money that all of our states have been back-filling and counting on,” she said, noting that the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was discovered in Washington. “We had to put our entire health apparatus into gear without any assistance. And so we backfilled a lot of the money, expecting that we would get it.” 

Jayapal said that design would have blown a “$440 million hole” in the budget of her home state. She’d joined other affected Democrats, including those from Minnesota and Michigan, in pressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Wednesday morning to reverse course — and threatening to sink the larger spending bill unless the state money was left untouched.

Adding to the critics’ frustrations, Democratic leaders had not warned them that their states were facing cuts before they introduced the $1.5 trillion omnibus package shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, just hours before the House was scheduled to vote on the legislation.

“Had we had a conversation about it, I think it would have been very clear that this was probably not a strategy that would work, and that we’d need to find other options,” Jayapal said.

Faced with the internal revolt, Democratic leaders responded by removing the COVID-19 relief from the package altogether — prompting the White House to warn of “severe consequences” for U.S. efforts to fight the pandemic. 

Later in the day, the House approved that funding as a stand-alone measure, but only after stripping out the $7 billion offset from the states — a move that’s sure to sink the bill in the 50-50 Senate, where 60 votes are needed to trump a GOP filibuster.

Jayapal acknowledged the need to come up with the additional $7 billion if the bill is to reach Biden’s desk. Democrats are currently weighing several options, she said. She did not disclose what they are, but suggested one could be to spread the burden proportionately around the country.

“Had they said, ‘Well all states are going to have to do a clawback, and even if you got your money in one tranche, guess what, we’re gong to take a little bit off,’ it would have taken the pressure off of 30 states and put it on all the states,” she said.

“We understand that there are a number of different options on the table, and we just have to look at what those options are,” she added. “Because at the end of the day we’re going to have to get 10 Republicans to support it.”

This story was updated on March 11 at 3:19 p.m.

Tags 2022 omnibus bill COVID-19 funding Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal

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