Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there’s no “urgency” to pass another bill and that Republicans are “assessing what we’ve done already.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday introduced a more than $3 trillion coronavirus relief package in an effort to provide further aid as the economic consequences of the pandemic worsen.
The so-called “Heroes Act,” which would be the largest relief package in history, would include nearly $1 trillion in aid for states and cities, a second round of stimulus payments to individuals, more help for small businesses, “hazard pay” for essential workers, assistance for renters and mortgage owners, and funds to save the Postal Service.
“We must think big, for the people, now,” Pelosi said from her office at the Capitol. “Not acting is the most expensive course.”
With her proposal, Pelosi is attempting to address the enormity of the crisis. More than 1.3 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 82,000 have died of the virus. Roughly 33.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began and the national unemployment rate sits at 14.7%, the highest level since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are struggling to pay their mortgages and rent, while countless essential workers at meat plants, grocery stores, and hospitals have been exposed to the coronavirus and later lost their lives. States and cities are suffering huge budget shortfalls due to the economic collapse and have pleaded for federal aid, lest they have to make steep cuts in state and local services such as education, housing, and health programs.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned Wednesday that the U.S. is in danger of suffering a prolonged recession and urged Congress and the White House to take further steps to prevent long-term economic damage. Powell acknowledged that further rescue aid from government spending or tax policies would be expensive, but said it would be “worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”
The House plans to vote on Democrats’ 1,800-page bill as soon as Friday, but the Trump administration has said it wants to wait and see how prior aid packages impact the economy before passing any further relief bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election this November, has said there’s no “urgency” to pass another bill and echoed the Trump administration’s line that Republicans are “assessing what we’ve done already.”
“I’m in constant communication with the White House and if we decide to go forward we’ll go forward together,” McConnell told reporters on Monday. “We have not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”
If they maintain their opposition to Pelosi’s bill, here’s what they would be rejecting:
Aid for State and Local Governments
The Democratic bill provides $900 billion in aid to state and local governments to help prevent layoffs of public workers, cuts to services, or tax hikes. This breaks down as follows: $500 billion to state governments, $375 billion to local governments, and $40 billion to Indian tribes and territorial governments.
Direct Payments to Most Americans
The bill includes a second round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals and makes those benefits more generous than the first round, which limited payments for dependent children to $500. The new round would provide new payments of $1,200 per family member, up to $6,000 for a household.
“Hazard Pay” for Essential Workers
The relief effort creates a $200 billion “heroes fund” that would provide a “hazard pay” supplement for essential workers such as first responders, health care workers, sanitation workers, and those at businesses required to stay open.
Extension of Unemployment Benefits
In passing the CARES Act in March, Congress expanded unemployment benefits by an additional $600-a-week for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. That expansion is set to expire in July, but Pelosi’s bill would extend those supplemental payments through January, 2021. Republicans have already said they will oppose an extension.
Aid for The Postal Service
The Postal Service has been devastated by the coronavirus and is on track to run out of money by the end of September because it’s losing so much revenue during the crisis. Pelosi’s bill would provide $25 billion to the agency and would also repeal several restrictions on a $10 billion line of credit for the Postal Service authorized in a previous economic rescue bill.
Housing and Rental Assistance
The bill provides $175 billion to states to help renters and homeowners pay mortgages, rent, and other housing costs and avoid default, with much of the money aimed at lower-income people.
Aid for Highways/Mass Transit
The Heroes Act also provides $15 billion for state transportation departments for highway needs and $16 billion to mass transit systems hit by a massive drop-off of ridership and lower income from fares.
The bill dedicates $100 billion to states, school districts, and universities to offset additional costs associated with the coronavirus.
Money for Testing and Aid to Health Providers
Pelosi’s effort provides $75 billion to test for the coronavirus, perform contact tracing to track its spread, and cover treatment costs for COVID-19. The bill also adds another $100 billion for hospitals and other health care providers.
RELATED: U.S. Needs to Conduct 20 Million Coronavirus Tests a Day Before Reopening, Harvard Researchers Say
Health Insurance For The Newly Uninsured
Nearly 27 million Americans may have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released Wednesday. The Democratic bill provides subsidies for laid off workers to remain on their employer-provided health insurance plans through so-called COBRA benefits and creates an open enrollment period to sign up for “Obamacare” policies on state and federal health insurance exchanges.
The bill also includes a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) benefits, $3.6 billion to help local officials prepare for November’s elections, and aid for the 2020 Census. The effort would also provide businesses with an employee retention tax credit and $10 billion in additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program to ensure under-served businesses and nonprofit organizations have access to grants through a disaster loan program. The package also includes $600 million to tackle coronavirus outbreaks in state and federal prisons as well as $600 million in aid to local police departments to cover salaries and equipment costs.
Does This Bill Have Any Chance of Becoming Law?
It’s unlikely. It’s not even clear whether Pelosi’s bill has enough Democratic support to pass the House, let alone the Senate. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, expressed frustration that a progressive priority—a plan that includes federal funding for small-business payrolls—wasn’t included in the relief bill, and have not committed to supporting the bill.
Still, the main roadblock is Republicans, who contend that Pelosi’s bill is a partisan wishlist for Democrats. “What Nancy Pelosi is proposing will never pass the Senate,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican, told the Associated Press.
House Republicans also oppose the bill. “I can’t believe that that would be real,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told the AP.
In recent days, Republicans have also begun to fret over the growing national deficit and have expressed reluctance to pass further coronavirus relief legislation. But as the crisis worsens and states rush to reopen—potentially risking a more severe second wave of cases—the political peril of doing nothing during an election year could prove challenging for Congress and the White House.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday warned that numerous bankruptcies among small businesses and extended unemployment for many people remain a serious risk, unless further action was taken. “We ought to do what we can to avoid these outcomes,” Powell said.
Powell pointed to one jarring statistic to underscore the economic devastation being felt around the country. Among people who had been working in February, nearly 40% of households earning less than $40,000 a year lost a job in March, Powell said.
Pelosi’s bill would provide desperately needed aid to many of those people, a point she made clear on Tuesday while criticizing Republicans’ inaction.
“There are those who said, ‘Let’s just pause,’” she said. “Hunger doesn’t take a pause. Rent doesn’t take a pause. Bills don’t take a pause.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.