Pelosi Offers House Plan As Senate Fight Over Coronavirus Economic Relief Bill Intensifies

The Speaker speaks as the Senate blows up in partisan wrangling. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bipartisan congressional negotiations to combat the coronavirus pandemic descended into angry charges and counter-charges on Monday. For the second day, on a near party-line vote, the Senate failed to pass a procedural measure paving the way to consideration of Republican–managed legislation (as it currently stands). While the roughly $2 trillion scope of relief has been generally accepted, Democrats are accusing Republicans (and the Trump administration) of trying to create a half-trillion dollar corporate slush fund while failing to provide assurances for workers these same firms may lay off, and shirking the needs of state and local governments that are on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. Republicans are accusing Democrats of trying to exploit the emergency to enact pro-worker and pro-environment provisions that aren’t necessary to deal with the crisis.

As negotiations continued, Speaker Nancy Pelosi kept the pressure up by announcing that House Democrats would unveil their own bill, which she outlined very generally in a press availability. This section of her statement on the bill addresses the most heated partisan difference of opinion:

[O]ur bill requires that any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars must protect their workers’ wages and benefits – not CEO pay, stock buybacks or layoffs. It gives our small businesses fast relief with grants and loans to tide them through this crisis. And it strengthens Unemployment Insurance so that it can replace the average wages of our workers who are losing their jobs.

But some critics immediately accused Pelosi of pushing for corporate accountability measures that would persist long after the loans involved — or even the COVID-19 crisis — were liquidated:

Some of what Pelosi has been pushing may be reflected in demands Senate Democrats are making. It’s significant that a recent draft of the House bill included more robust personal relief (via existing federal programs) and much more targeted aid to state and local governments, according to Roll Call:

[The bill] would significantly expand the rebate checks that Senate Republicans proposed, offering $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for joint filers, with $1,500 per child, capped at three children. That’s up from $1,200, $2,400 and $500 in the Senate GOP bill. The same income phaseout thresholds would apply, but there would also be a special “income supplement” for households earning up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

In addition, the Democrats’ bill would offer significant expansions of earned income tax credits for childless adults, and refundable child tax credits up to $2,000, with an extra $1,600 per child under age 6. That’s similar but beefed up significantly from legislation the House Ways and Means Committee approved last year.

State and local aid would cover a wide array of needs:

$100 billion for grants to public and private health care providers to reimburse them for lost revenues; $30 billion to help state s pay for education expenses and another $9.5 billion for higher education; $25 billion for public transit agencies and $10 billion for airports suffering from empty terminals; $20 billion to reimburse the U.S. Postal Service for lost revenue; and $4 billion in election security grants.

This last provision may promote voting by mail in case the viability of the November elections comes into question, as Pelosi’s own statement suggests:

Ensures that states can carry out this year’s election with billions in grant funding for states through the Election Assistance Commission and a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, including mailing a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency.

Perhaps some of the House bill will make its way into a deal negotiated in the Senate. Otherwise it will represent the next line of resistance to a Republican–dictated approach that Pelosi says will “put corporations first.”

Pelosi Offers Bill As Coronavirus Fight Rages in Senate