House Democrats are pushing ahead with a far-reaching Covid-19 recovery package, setting up a clash with the Trump administration and Senate Republican leaders who have so far resisted adding more stimulus to the economy after Washington injected a staggering $3 trillion in recovery programs just this spring alone.
The bill is expected to mirror – and potentially go beyond – the $2 trillion measure enacted in late March, which was the third relief measure from Congress and amounted to the largest rescue package in American history.
Senate Republican leaders are so far firmly rejecting calls for a new recovery package.
Asked by CNN on Monday about the possibility of moving ahead on another package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “We’re basically assessing what we’ve done already,” and added, “I’m in constant communication with the White House. If we decide to go forward, we will go forward together.”
McConnell didn’t shut the door entirely on the possibility of another package, but said, “I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could (come), but I don’t think it has yet.”
There was some GOP disagreement, however, with McConnell’s assessment that neither the GOP nor the White House feel a sense of urgency to move quickly on a new plan.
Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri support moving forward with additional jobs measures, with Cassidy saying there’s “some urgency” in states like his that need aid and are facing extreme budget shortfalls in responding to the crisis.
While the House has been out of session amid the deadly pandemic, Democrats have been working for weeks behind the scenes to piece together the bill, which is expected to include direct assistance to Americans, bolster unemployment insurance, provide new funding for mail-in voting, bail out cash-strapped states and cities, give money for distressed businesses, help with student loan assistance and give aid for rent and mortgage payments.
The emerging bill is not expected, however, to include a paycheck measure championed by progressives, prompting pushback on a private call with House Democrats on Monday.
On the call, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington took issue with the sweeping stimulus bill in the works because it is not expected to include the Paycheck Guarantee Act, a plan the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairwoman is pushing to cover 100% of workers’ wages up to $90,000 per year, according to three sources on the call.
The plan would also ensure workers keep their employer-sponsored health benefits and cover essential expenses like rent.
Jayapal expressed her strong concerns about the process and that the measure may not be included in the soon-to-be-unveiled package, the sources said.
Pelosi responded to Jayapal’s concerns, the sources said.
A Democratic aide explained the rationale why the Washington Democrat’s proposal won’t be included, arguing that plan could have a massive price tag and be extremely complicated to implement in the near term. Both Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal indicated they support the idea over the long term, while Neal discussed an employee retention tax credit as one of the measures to include to help stem job losses.
Pelosi has been pushing to get the bill finalized and voted on by the full chamber this week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office has advised members that the chamber could reconvene this week and Hoyer told House Democrats during a caucus call Monday that the House could vote this Friday or next Tuesday, May 19, on their new stimulus plan, according to a source on the call. He indicated they are still drafting the plan.
When members return, the House is also expected to take up an unprecedented rules change to allow members to vote on the floor remotely and proceed with committee action while away from Washington.
Pelosi has solicited proposals from all corners of her caucus in the hopes of putting together what she has called a “transformational” bill as the economy reels from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
“We must ‘Think Big’ For The People now, because if we don’t, it will cost more later,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues early Monday morning. “Not acting is the most expensive course.”
The bill would be an opening salvo in the debate about whether to add more stimulus to the economy, even as the two sides remain extremely far apart.
Top White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett and other Trump administration officials asserted on Sunday that they do not believe a fourth economic stimulus package is needed right now.
Hassett told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that he thinks it is still “premature” to pass a fourth phase of funding. He said the Trump administration is watching both economic activity and the path of the disease while assessing whether to move forward with more relief legislation.
That comes as Senate GOP leaders have made clear that there is no appetite for another sweeping relief package, saying they need to assess how the recent onslaught of funding has been implemented before taking another dramatic step.
Moreover, Democrats are pushing provisions that are expected to get sharp pushback from the GOP.
House Democrats are circulating provisions to allow all eligible voters to vote by mail, according to Democratic aides. It’s unclear what ultimately will get into the package, which could include anywhere from $2 billion-$4 billion for expanded mail-in voting access.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Administration, told Democrats on a Thursday conference call about a number of different provisions, which Democrats argue is crucial to ensure the November elections can be carried out safely amid fears of another outbreak in the fall. But President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his disdain for such measures, arguing that it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
Also Democrats are pushing hard to include direct assistance to Americans, including recurring payments of up to $2,000 a month during the crisis. Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a leading proponent of the effort, told CNN Monday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” the provisions will be included in the Democratic bill.
Pelosi, in her letter, also made clear her push to help state and cities, a figure she has previously floated could cost $1 trillion.
“We must act boldly to support state and local entities to address coronavirus-related outlays and lost revenue,” she told Democrats.
There are divisions among Senate Republicans over whether to support additional aid for state and local governments, with many arguing that those entities shouldn’t be bailed out by the federal government after the March stimulus approved $150 billion for states and cities.
Over lunch last week, Republicans in the Senate debated whether to give state and local governments more money, with a number of Republicans sympathetic to the sharp revenue losses experienced by states and cities. Others want to hold the line amid growing deficit concerns.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has indicated that he may be open to considering more money to help state and local governments, but only if it is conditioned on passing liability reforms to protect employers from a rash of lawsuits he believes will be aimed at them after the pandemic clears and businesses reopen. But Democratic leaders have pushed back strongly on that demand.
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.