Capitol Report: House Democrats roll out $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, eyeing a vote by the end of this week
Republicans have said they’re in no hurry to move on another bill soon
House Democrats unveiled their opening bid Tuesday in the next debate on Capitol Hill over how to fight the coronavirus and revive the economy, a sweeping bill set to be voted on at the end of the week.
The 1,815-page bill, dubbed the “HEROES Act” by Democrats, was projected to cost a little over $3 trillion as of Tuesday morning, according to a House Democratic aide. It includes bolstering the direct payments program put in place in the $1.8 trillion coronavirus bill passed in late March, additional monies for state and local governments, and extending the expiration date for some unemployment benefits related to the pandemic.
It includes more direct payments similar to the $1,200 ones made after the first big coronavirus bill passed in late March, almost $1 trillion in additional aid for state and local governments, and extending the expiration date for some unemployment benefits related to the pandemic.
The bill is expected to meet with a chilly reception in the Senate, where Republicans have said they’re in no hurry to move on another bill soon and are focused on protecting business owners from litigation by workers or customers when establishments reopen.
“This is not a time for aspirational legislation. This is a time for practical response to the coronavirus pandemic. And so we’re going to insist on doing narrowly targeted legislation, if and when we do legislate again and we may well, that addresses the problems, the needs — and not the aspirations of the Democratic majority in the House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the bill was made public.
President Donald Trump met with Senate Republicans late Tuesday afternoon but has yet to comment.
Pelosi, in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon, said the massive bill reflected a “think big” approach she said had been encouraged by Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“The low interest rate and the prospect of access to credit has altered the stock market. We intend to use those low interest rates to bolster the American people. We must think big for the people now because if we don’t it will cost more in lives and livelihood later,” she said.
“Not acting is the most expensive course.”
The bill, which House leaders aim to see voted on Friday, includes nearly $1 trillion for aid to state, local and tribal governments, with states getting the lion’s share, at $500 billion. Another $200 billion would pay for “hazard pay” for essential workers, including health workers, public safety workers and teachers. Another $175 billion would go to help households pay rent, mortgage and utility bills.
It includes a second round of direct payments, at $1,200 per family member with a limit of $6,000 per household. It would extend the $600 weekly add-on unemployment benefit into January 2021.
Because that payment is available in addition to regular jobless benefits, some critics have said it will make it harder to reduce unemployment ahead. It also provides for a 15% boost in federal food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The bill also includes many more narrowly targeted provisions as well, some of which may be targeted by Republicans as revealing the bill to be grab bag of Democratic priorities.
There is $400 million for expenses due to delays in people responding to the 2020 U.S. Census because of the pandemic. The U.S. Postal Service would get $25 billion to replace lost revenue. The bill would boost the tax deduction for out-of-pocket classroom expenses paid for teachers to $500 from $250. It would also temporarily roll back the limitation on taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes.
The limit was hailed by Republicans as a major achievement in their 2017 tax overhaul and repealing it would be both expensive and make the tax code more regressive, critics say.
In an interview Monday night on MSNBC, Pelosi said the state and local aid was meant to offset losses from extra spending locally to fight the coronavirus as well as revenues lost due to the shutdown.
She also said the bill will try to get money into workers’ pockets through both jobless benefits and the direct provision of cash. “We have the unemployment insurance that will be renewed in this legislation, as well as cash payments, the direct payments. People are craving that.”
Republican senators said they felt no increased pressure to act legislatively because of the Democrats’ bill.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said Monday, “It sounds like it’s going to be a $4 [trillion] or $5 trillion piece of legislation, which has everything but the kitchen sink in there. So I think it’s not a serious effort to negotiate a bill that actually has a chance of passing, so I don’t feel like that in and of itself increases the sense of urgency.”
There is one area of possible bipartisanship in the bill: studying how to move at least some of U.S.’s critical supply-chain components away from a reliance on China.
The bill includes language creating a Medical Supplies Response Coordinator to help with distribution of personal protective equipment, drugs and other high-priority items. It also calls for a $500 million supply chain manufacturing pilot program meant to improve the amount and geographic diversity of critical medical supplies.
The White House has been interested in the issue, as well, as it has sought to shift blame to China for not being more forthcoming about the early spread of the virus, even as an extensive leaked memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to campaign staff urged targeting China as an enemy rather than defending Trump’s performance during the pandemic.
“Whether we’re talking about therapy, or we’re talking about a vaccine, a lot of the ingredients come from China,” Pelosi said.