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Warning Pelosi and Schumer Against 'Inadequate Half-Measures,' Progressives Demand People-First Coronavirus Relief

"This is a crisis of unprecedented scale, and Democrats need to use the full power of the House to advance solutions that match the needs of the moment."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a news conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the U.S. Capitol January 25, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a news conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the U.S. Capitol January 25, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

With the U.S. economy in free-fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the nation, progressives are warning Democratic congressional leaders against caving to GOP demands for yet another business-friendly relief measure that would do little to alleviate the financial pain of frontline workers and the unemployed.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, advocacy groups Indivisible, MoveOn, and Community Change Action said they are "deeply alarmed" at the possibility that that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "are acquiescing to severely inadequate half-measures" proposed by the Trump White House.

"The Democratic leadership needs to listen to their own constituents—their pain, anxiety, and outrage."
—Angel Padilla, Indivisible

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Tuesday asked Congress for an additional $250 billion to replenish a small business loan program—created as part of a stimulus package passed last month—that has thus far been marred by confusion and delays.

In a statement Wednesday, Pelosi and Schumer indicated that they would accept the $250 billion funding increase request if the legislation also includes an increase in funding for hospitals, states, and federal nutrition assistance—a proposal that progressives criticized as woefully insufficient.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats blocked an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass by unanimous consent a GOP-crafted bill that included only the White House's demand for more small business funding. Senate Republicans subsequently stopped Sen. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) effort to push through Democrats' alternative legislation.

Indivisible, MoveOn, and Community Change Action warned that the White House and McConnell are "trying to force a business-only measure that completely ignores the needs of American families."

"We need more from Democratic leaders," the groups said. "We call on Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to use the profound power they hold in this moment to provide solutions that will save lives and help families survive this crisis."

A diverse coalition of hundreds of progressive organizations is demanding that Democrats propose a "People's Bailout" that adheres to the following five principles:

  1. Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions;
  2. Economic relief must be provided directly to the people;
  3. Rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives;
  4. Make a downpayment on a regenerative economy while preventing future crises; and
  5. Protect our democratic process while protecting each other.

"The Democratic leadership needs to listen to their own constituents—their pain, anxiety, and outrage," Indivisible's national policy director Angel Padilla said in a statement Wednesday. "This is a crisis of unprecedented scale, and Democrats need to use the full power of the House to advance solutions that match the needs of the moment. We expect to see a bill following the principles of the People's Bailout."

The People's Bailout has been endorsed by more than 50 members of Congress. Read the full proposal here.

The fight over a new relief measure comes as the CARES Act—which Democrats agreed to pass in late March despite its corporate-friendly provisions—is failing to deliver much-needed aid to workers and the unemployed, who have still not received the appropriated increase in unemployment benefits or one-time $1,200 cash payments authorized under the law.

Pelosi and Schumer said Wednesday that the additional money for small businesses currently being debated in the Senate is an "interim" measure and vowed to push for a Phase 4 relief package on the scale of the CARES Act.

"Historians will look back at this time to see how we dealt with this unprecedented crisis. I hope they will observe that we responded with the courage and boldness that the moment required."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

But critics cautioned that passing a tepid interim measure desired by the White House would strip Democrats of any leverage they have left to push through necessary relief such as major increases in healthcare funding, money for states to implement mail-in voting, and direct monthly payments to all U.S. households.

"No damn 3.5 phase bill giving away the leverage in little pieces," tweeted freelance journalist Jon Walker. "The House should put together one big package... Pass it and tell Trump he can take it or lose re-election by 30 points."

Meagan Hatcher Mays, director of democracy policy for Indivisible, said in a statement that she is glad "Schumer and Pelosi have acknowledged that the last coronavirus relief package didn't go far enough—but neither does this one, not even close."

"The last bill was a $2 trillion free-for-all for corporations and elites," said Mays, "and this bill doesn't even pretend to address that by strengthening oversight over the bailout money."

In an op-ed for The Guardian on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote that Congress must "build upon and expand the recent stimulus package with new and bolder emergency legislation which must be passed as soon as possible."

Sanders demanded that everyone in the U.S. "be able to receive all of the healthcare they need regardless of income" and called for "a $2,000 monthly emergency payment to every person in the country until the crisis has passed."

"Historians will look back at this time to see how we dealt with this unprecedented crisis," said Sanders. "I hope they will observe that we responded with the courage and boldness that the moment required."

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