Sanders calls for Senate to 'improve' House Democrats' coronavirus bill

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (I-Vt.) on Thursday said that the Senate should "improve" House Democrats' $3 trillion coronavirus relief package so that it better addresses families' health care and economic needs.

The comments from Sanders, a prominent progressive lawmaker and former Democratic presidential candidate, come one day before the House plans to vote on the bill, despite a push from the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to delay the vote.

"Clearly, in these unprecedented times, we need to substantially increase funding for state and local governments, provide hazard pay for essential workers and save the Postal Service. I applaud the Speaker for including these, and many other, important provisions in her bill," Sanders said in a statement.


"In my view, however, the Senate must improve this legislation if we are to adequately address the two most urgent needs facing working families right now: health care and economic security," he added.

House Democrats' bill is expected to get a vote in the lower chamber on Friday, but is not expected to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill is designed to lay out Democratic priorities in future negotiations.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressives push White House to overturn wage ruling Warren bill would impose wealth tax on M households This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PocanMark William PocanDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' Senate Democrats likely to face key test of unity on 2022 budget Democrats blast Facebook over anti-vaccine pages MORE (D-Wis.) argued that the House vote on the bill should be moved until next week so that House Democrats can have time to discuss amendments to it. But they stopped short of threatening to vote against the bill, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.) is continuing to proceed to a Friday vote.

Sanders highlighted several parts of the bill he thinks should be changed. 

The bill includes premium subsidies so that workers can maintain their health insurance coverage if they are eligible for COBRA, a program that allows workers who have been laid off to stay on their old employer's health plan.


Sanders, however, said subsidizing COBRA would "be a massive giveaway to the health insurance industry" and said the bill should instead allow Medicare to pay the health care bills of the uninsured and underinsured until the crisis ends.

"This approach will provide coverage to all of our people in a much more cost-effective way," he said.

Sanders also said that any Senate legislation to address the economic pain caused by the crisis should include a provision to guarantee workers' fully pay, up to $90,000. This idea has also been pushed by Jayapal, but wasn't included in House Democrats' bill. Instead, the bill includes an expansion of the employee retention tax credit created under bipartisan legislation enacted in March.

Sanders said that the expansion of the credit in the bill is not the same as the idea Jayapal is championing. He said that guaranteeing workers' paychecks "is what is being done successfully in many European countries and what should be done here." 

Additionally, Sanders said that the second round of $1,200 direct payments in the bill is "not enough," and that people should receive monthly payments of $2,000 until the crisis ends. 

"This unprecedented crisis demands an unprecedented legislative response," Sanders said.