Alarmed by the lack of urgency with which Congress is confronting the Covid-19 pandemic, outside progressives are pressuring the House to vote down the interim stimulus package passed by the Senate Tuesday because it contains no direct relief for vulnerable people and "gives away all Democratic leverage" to fight for legislation that matches the scale of the nation's public health and economic crisis.
"This country is facing an unprecedented crisis," Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, said in a statement late Tuesday. "Our communities need Congress—and the Democrats who control an entire chamber of Congress—to fight for them. This COVID 3.5 package is nothing close to what families and workers need right now."
"Rent is due in a week for the millions of people who just lost their jobs and health coverage during a global pandemic. Physical distancing saves lives, but a Senate this out of touch with real people will ruin them."
—George Goehl, People's Action
George Goehl, director of People's Action, called the interim measure "pathetic" and said "the House must stand up to Republicans and reject this bill."
"Rent is due in a week for the millions of people who just lost their jobs and health coverage during a global pandemic," said Goehl. "And we still don't have adequate funding for testing or protective equipment to keep people safe. Physical distancing saves lives, but a Senate this out of touch with real people will ruin them."
Shortly following the Senate's unanimous passage of the $480 billion interim bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—now that he has secured taxpayer money for large corporations and the wealthy—voiced concern about the rising national debt and said the Senate will not be considering additional stimulus legislation until it returns to session next month.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who negotiated the interim legislation with Democratic leaders, signaled that the Trump administration is open to a fourth coronavirus package, but listed priorities that progressives said are nowhere near sufficient to address the economic pain sweeping the nation.
"This bill may be our last chance to get the things we need," Levin said of the interim measure. "Mitch McConnell has already said he doesn't want to push through another bill, and if he does, it won't be for weeks."
Unlike the CARES Act—which largely came under fire for what it included, such as myriad corporate-friendly provisions and a massive slush fund for big business—the interim legislation is sparking backlash over what it leaves out.
The measure includes over $300 billion for small businesses and $75 billion for hospitals but contains no funding for the U.S. Postal Service, no hazard pay or additional protections for frontline workers, no recurring stimulus checks, no money for vote-by-mail, no additional oversight of the Trump administration's handling of trillions of dollars in bailout funds, no increase in federal nutrition assistance, and no funding for struggling cities and states.
"This is a win for McConnell and Trump," Levin said. "The Senate has had its say. It's a bad deal for Americans but a great deal for political donors. The people's House should now use its power to make it better rather than rubber stamping Trump and McConnell's failed agenda."
Progressive advocacy group Social Security Works also urged the House to vote no on the interim bill. "We need a relief package that will put people first—especially the seniors and people with disabilities most at risk from Covid-19," the group tweeted. "This package fails to do so. Democrats have leverage now and they need to use it."
In a press conference Tuesday night after the Senate passed the interim funding package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) attempted to assure the public that key priorities they failed to include in the just-passed bill will be in the next legislation—but did not provide a clear timeline for when the measure could come together.
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"The one thing that we really have to insist upon in the next package is how we support our heroes," Pelosi said, referring to healthcare workers and other frontline employees.
"We agree this was not enough, for this is an interim package," said Schumer. "If there would be no COVID 4, there would be a real problem. But there is going to be COVID 4."
Just a reminder: our urgent priorities can't wait for Covid 4 because WE DON'T KNOW IF THERE'S GOING TO BE A COVID 4. https://t.co/RcSMZfGb85
— Leah Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) April 22, 2020
In an interview on MSNBC Tuesday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed frustration with the "next time" approach from congressional leaders in the face of a crisis that requires immediate and sweeping action.
"We are abdicating our responsibility," said Ocasio-Cortez. "Thousands of people are dying every day... and every time we pass one of these bills we're hearing that the real solution is coming in the next bill, and then the next bill, and the next bill, and at some point we have to raise our hands and say, 'When is the solution coming?'"
"We have to recognize the urgency of the moment, the scale of the crisis. We cannot just give away the things that Republicans want most when we know that they're not going to fix the problem that is in front of us."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Ocasio-Cortez said during a press call earlier this week that she is leaning toward voting against the interim bill when the House considers it on Thursday, but it is unclear how other progressive House Democrats plan to vote.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, voiced concerns about the interim funding package on Monday but did not say how she would vote. Leaders of the Progressive Caucus earlier this month unveiled a slate of proposals that they want included in the "Phase 4" stimulus legislation, such as monthly $2,000 payments to all U.S. households and opening Medicare to the unemployed and uninsured.
"We have to recognize the urgency of the moment, the scale of the crisis," said Jayapal. "We cannot just give away the things that Republicans want most when we know that they're not going to fix the problem that is in front of us."
Goehl of People's Action said that the Democrat-controlled House—which did not craft its own bill to counter the Senate's interim measure—should pass several pieces of legislation already introduced by Jayapal, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
"Instead of playing small ball," said Goehl, "Congress should immediately pass Rep. Omar's bill to cancel rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis; Rep. Jayapal's bill to provide emergency healthcare coverage during the pandemic; and Reps. Jayapal's and Tlaib's bill to provide $2,000 cash assistance to every person, every month, for the duration of the crisis."
"The House must pass a People's Bailout with the funds to meet the actual needs of people in crisis," Goehl added. "Democrats must seize this opportunity to show people on the front lines of this pandemic that they will stand with them."