House Democrats move to pass the next coronavirus bill without GOP support
As they work on the next bill to respond to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, House Democrats are eschewing negotiations with Republicans or the White House, and hope to vote on their own measure as soon as next week.
It marks a change of course for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin successfully negotiated two of the last three major bills to respond to the pandemic.
Democrats are putting together a bill focused on new spending for localities, individuals and testing — knowing that they will eventually have to negotiate with Republicans to get legislation through the Senate.
“We have to start someplace. Rather than starting in a way that does not meet the needs of the American people, you want to set a standard,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. “We need a presidential signature, so at some point we’ll have to get an agreement.”
Democrats are betting that the public will favor their aggressive response over the more cautious approach that Republicans have embraced in recent weeks. GOP leaders say they want to give the prior bills — which have already added $2.8 trillion to the national deficit — a chance to work and then focus on making tweaks to existing programs. They are rallying around a plan to protect business owners from lawsuits stemming from employees or customers as they reopen their shops.
The Democrats’ bill will be centered around significant funding — perhaps $1 trillion — for state and local governments. Republicans have balked at that kind of spending, saying that they don’t want to bail out states that were in a precarious financial state before the virus came to the United States.
Democrats have framed the spending as a “heroes” bill, arguing that the money would go to fund the police officers, firefighters, transit workers and public school teachers who are paid by local governments.
With a hint of frustration, Pelosi said Democrats have brought these ideas to the table in prior negotiations.
“A part of this is things that they never agreed to before and kept saying, ‘in the next bill, in the next bill, in the next bill,’” she said.
The legislation is expected to include up to $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which is facing a fiscal shortfall; an expansion of the existing Family Medical Leave Act program; enhanced standards for workplace safety; expansion of unemployment insurance; enhanced Medicaid spending for the states; and food assistance.
The legislation is also expected to include new “triggers” for benefits when certain metrics are met, such as when unemployment levels hit a predetermined number.
Rank-and-file lawmakers have introduced dozens of ideas that could get incorporated, including a $2,000-per-person payment to most Americans and student loan forgiveness for medical workers.
Pelosi acknowledged that this bill’s path would be different, but said negotiations with Republicans would come later.
“We’re very proud that our first four bills were bipartisan and we hope that we can continue that,” she said. “We’re not drawing any red lines in the sand or anything like that. I hope they won’t.”
Democratic leaders are expected to release a bill in the coming days, with a vote expected as soon as early next week. House members are home in their districts and would have to come back to Washington for passage. At that time, House Democrats are expected to approve of a plan to allow members to vote remotely by proxy on future legislation during the pandemic.
Republicans are skeptical of voting by proxy, arguing that the House can make accommodations to work safely. But a handful of members of both parties are in negotiations on a possible path forward.
Meanwhile, Republicans on Thursday focused their efforts on China, whose “cover-up directly led to this crisis,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).
He announced the creation of a China task force that will be responsible for developing legislation to respond to Beijing’s handling of the outbreak. Several Republicans introduced a bill to rename the street outside the Chinese embassy in Washington “Li Wenliang Plaza” in honor of Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan-based physician who warned the world about the virus before he succumbed to the disease.
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