Democrats say more COVID-19 relief needed after current measure becomes law

Greg Nash

Democrats are arguing that more coronavirus relief legislation will need to be enacted early in the incoming Biden administration, even as they tout the $900 billion package that lawmakers unveiled Monday.

Democrats are highlighting provisions in the agreement that they fought for, including extended unemployment benefits, a second round of direct payments and rental assistance. But they wanted the package to be bigger and say the relief in the $900 billion measure is insufficient.

“I would hope that as we see the need for what we have done in this nearly $900 billion legislation that we’ll vote on today, that everyone understands it’s a first step,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the House floor Monday.

Democrats had initially wanted a much larger relief package than the one Congress is considering this week.

In May, House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion package, and then passed a version of that measure in October that was reduced to $2.2 trillion. Prior to the election, Democrats rejected an offer from the Trump administration for a $1.8 trillion package.

Congressional Republicans, many of whom wanted to keep the price tag at under $1 trillion, argue that the bill reflects their position.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that the bill is “smart, targeted bipartisan policies — what Senate Republicans have been recommending since the summer.”

Democratic leaders pushed back on the argument that Republicans got the upper hand, highlighting priorities of theirs that are in the package.

Pelosi said Monday that there are things in the bill that were not part of some Republican proposals, including nutrition assistance, rental assistance and strengthening tax credits for low- and middle-income families.

“It does things that [McConnell’s] bill never did,” she said, referring to a proposal McConnell circulated earlier this month.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in an interview with The Hill on Sunday evening that Democrats worked hard to get stimulus checks of $600 in the bill, though their preference was payments of $1,200, and to get a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits, though they wanted that amount to be $600 per week.

“Those are two of the areas that we had to fight for, because [Republicans] wanted nothing, they wanted zero in those two categories,” Waters said. 

Direct payments were not included in McConnell’s proposal, though they were a priority of President Trump.

Democrats say they are willing to go along with a smaller package than they had wanted this year because Biden will become president in January, and they will be able to work with him on additional relief early next year.

Biden said in a statement late Sunday that the bill is just a start.

“Immediately, starting in the new year, Congress will need to get to work on support for our COVID-19 plan, for support to struggling families, and investments in jobs and economic recovery,” he said. “There will be no time to waste.”

There are a number of areas where Democrats would like to take further action in future legislation. 

A top priority of Democrats that did not make it into the current bill was aid for state and local governments, though there are some targeted funds for state and local government functions such as education and transportation. Many Republicans objected to broad funds for state and local governments.

Democrats also think that the enhanced unemployment insurance and eviction moratorium in the bill will need to be extended beyond their expiration dates in the legislation. The $300 per week supplement to state unemployment lasts from Dec. 26 to March 14, while the eviction moratorium was extended through the end of January.

“There’s no question unemployment benefits will need to be extended past March 14,” Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement to The Hill. “Service industries will not come back in full until there is mass vaccination, and even then, it will take time to climb out of this deep economic hole.”

Waters said that the $25 billion in the bill for rental assistance is a “good start,” but that she hopes the incoming Biden administration takes further action to assist renters. She also said that she thinks the new administration may need to further extend the eviction moratorium because it may take longer than one month to get the rental assistance out to tenants and landlords.

“I’m pleased that at least we can give people some comfort and some real hope about getting even more assistance than we have in the bill,”  she said.

Democrats will likely face challenges passing further legislation next year. They will either have a very narrow majority in the Senate or remain in the minority, depending on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5. 

Republicans are signaling that they think an additional relief package may not be necessary, depending on how quickly people can get vaccinated. Outgoing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC Monday that he thinks the bill “will take us through the recovery.”

But Democrats think that the relief in the new bill will end prior to the end of the pandemic, and think it’s better to provide too much support than not enough.

“We must listen to the experts and economists who have told us that the dangers of going too small far outweigh the risk of going too big,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement.  “In the coming months, Congress must pass a comprehensive package that meets the scale of the crisis, prevents this economic crisis from worsening, and brings real, substantial relief to the millions of individuals and families living on the brink.”

Democratic leaders said they were hopeful about getting another package enacted next year because Biden will put a lot of attention on coronavirus relief.

“I am very optimistic that we can get a lot more done in a Senate, certainly if there’s a Democratic majority, but even if a Republican majority remains, with a new president who’s going to focus the issue,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a news conference Sunday.

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Maxine Waters Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Ron Wyden Steven Mnuchin
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