Pelosi unveils $3T virus bill, warns inaction costs more
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package Tuesday, providing nearly $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers and a new round of cash payments to individuals.
The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no “urgency.” The Senate will wait until after Memorial Day to act.
“We must think big, for the people now,” Pelosi said from the speaker’s office at the Capitol.
“Not acting is the most expensive course,” she said.
Lines drawn, the pandemic response from Congress will test the House and Senate — and President Donald Trump — as Washington navigates the crisis with the nation’s health and economic security at stake.
The so-called Heroes Act from Democrats is built around nearly $1 trillion for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs, focused chiefly on $375 billion for smaller suburban and rural municipalities largely left out of earlier bills.
The bill will offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and launches a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages. There is $75 billion more for virus testing.
It would continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits. It adds a 15% increase for food stamps and new help for paying employer-backed health coverage. For businesses, it provides an employee retention tax credit.
There’s $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers on the front lines of the crisis.
Pelosi drew on U.S. history — and poetry — to suggest “no man is an island” as she called on Americans to respond to the crisis with a strategy of science, virus testing and empathy.
“We are presenting a plan do what is necessary to deal with the corona crisis and make sure we can get the country back to work and school safely,” she said.
“There are those who said, ‘Let’s just pause,'” she added. “Hunger doesn’t take a pause. Rent doesn’t take a pause. Bills don’t take a pause.”
But the 1,800-page package is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans are not planning to vote on any new relief until June, after a Memorial Day recess.
Trump has already signed into law nearly $3 trillion in aid approved by Congress.
McConnell on Tuesday called the emerging Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities.” He said it’s not something that “deals with reality.”
The new package extends some provisions from previous aid packages, and adds new ones.
There are other new resources, including $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service. There is help for the 2020 Census. For the November election, the bill provides $3.6 billion to help local officials prepare for the challenges of voting during the pandemic.
The popular Payroll Protection Program, which has been boosted in past bills, would see another $10 billion to ensure under-served businesses and nonprofit organizations have access to grants through a disaster loan program.
For hospitals and other health care providers, there’s another $100 billion infusion to help cover costs and additional help for hospitals serving low-income communities.
There’s another $600 million in funding to tackle the issue of rapid spread of the virus in state and federal prisons, along with $600 million in help to local police departments for salaries and equipment
McConnell said he is working with the White House on next steps. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for health care providers and businesses that are reopening. Trump is expected to meet Tuesday with a group of Senate Republicans.
“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters earlier this week at the Capitol.
As states weigh the health risks of re-opening, McConnell said Tuesday the nation needs to “regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.”
Top GOP senators flatly rejected the House bill. “What Nancy Pelosi is proposing will never pass the Senate,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, “I don’t think there’s a sense of urgency to do it now.” He noted that already-approved money still hasn’t “gone out the door.”
The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due to the health concerns.
Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.
At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Matthew Daly in Washington, and Nick Riccardi in Denver, Colo., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.