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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds her weekly news conference during the novel coronavirus pandemic at the U.S. Capitol April 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'We Need Congress to Get a Grip': Democrats Urged to End Delay, Fight Like Hell for Covid-19 Relief That Puts People First

"If these are truly legislative priorities for members of Congress, as they should be, they need to start fighting for them."

Jake Johnson

Progressive frustration with the Democratic leadership is boiling over following the House's near-unanimous passage Thursday of an interim coronavirus relief package that provides no direct relief to vulnerable people and kicks life-or-death priorities to next month even as tens of millions of people and families don't know how they're going to afford rent and other basic necessities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck (D-N.Y.) both promised that while they failed to secure funding for states and localities, an increase in nutrition assistance, or protections for frontline workers in the interim bill, they will be sure to push for the inclusion of those proposals in the next Covid-19 package.

"That will be the centerpiece of our next legislation," Pelosi said in a speech Thursday.

"The people of this country have shown incredible patience, but that patience is wearing thin. When we get to the next CARES Act, it better be one hell of a package."
—George Goehl, People's Action

Outside advocacy groups and a handful of progressives in Congress are expressing outrage at the Democratic leadership's repeated "we'll do better next time" approach in the middle of a deadly pandemic. The House is not expected to return to Washington, D.C. again until May 4 at the earliest.

"'Just wait until the next bill' is not good enough anymore," Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement. "If these are truly legislative priorities for members of Congress, as they should be, they need to start fighting for them."

"It is absurd that over a month into a national lockdown, we still do not have universal paid sick leave, forcing essential workers who feel ill to put themselves and everyone around them at risk just to pay their bills," said Pearl. "It is absurd that as bills continue to accumulate for millions without steady streams of income, the federal government is giving no more than a one-time payment of $1200."

George Goehl, director of People's Action, urged Congress to quickly pass three bills that have already been introduced in the House: Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D-Minn.) plan to cancel all rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the coronavirus crisis; Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rashida Tlaib's (D-Mich.) plan to provide all U.S. households with $2,000 monthly payments; and Jayapal's plan to provide no-cost emergency healthcare for all.

Progressives are also demanding that Congress approve emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service, money for nationwide vote-by-mail, funding for cities and states, hazard pay for frontline workers, an increase in federal nutrition assistance, and more.

"Speaker Pelosi and Democrats have made big promises for the next rescue package," said Goehl. "The people of this country have shown incredible patience, but that patience is wearing thin. When we get to the next CARES Act, it better be one hell of a package, because [the interim bill] is a raw deal when we need the next New Deal... We need Congress to get a grip."

In a letter (pdf) to Pelosi and Schumer on Friday, nearly 50 progressive advocacy groups said that as Republicans attempt to exploit the coronavirus crisis to "further enrich their already-wealthy donors, and undermine democracy," Democrats "must put forth and fight for a relief package that puts people first."

"We need Democrats to be bold and fearless in fighting for our families and our communities, advancing solutions that are commensurate with the scale of the crisis we face and helping us build toward a better future for ​our people, our economy and our democracy," the groups wrote.

"Congress just voted for the first time in a month on a bill that doesn't address the core issues facing working families. Then they adjourned again until further notice. 'Someday' and 'next time' doesn't cut it."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Prior to the passage of the $480 billion interim coronavirus package, which President Donald Trump signed into law Friday, progressive activists warned that rubber-stamping Republican funding priorities without including money for vulnerable people would leave Democrats with little leverage in negotiations over the next spending package—assuming there is one.

Pearl wrote in an op-ed in Common Dreams Friday that Republicans' demand for hundreds of billions more in small business funding was "the single biggest piece of leverage House Democrats had to negotiate a better deal for workers."

"Instead of using that leverage," Pearl wrote, "Democrats told Americans who work for a living to just wait until the next bill for the changes they desperately need."

After the interim bill passed the House Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—suddenly concerned about the growing national debt now that he has secured money for big corporations and the rich—made clear that he is in no rush to approve any additional relief spending.

Congress should "press the pause button" on new coronavirus aid, McConnell said shortly after new Labor Department data showed that more than 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims since mid-March.

In a speech on the House floor Thursday, Pelosi accused McConnell of "notion mongering to get attention" and promised that the next bill—which she dubbed the Heroes Act—is coming soon.

"Let us be clear, the health and safety of our country will be endangered if we cannot pay the heroes who sacrifice to keep us safe," Pelosi said, referring to frontline workers.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Omar, and Tlaib—collectively known as "The Squad"—are pressing the Democratic leadership to provide a clear timeline on when the next relief package will come together and get a vote. Ocasio-Cortez was the only House Democrat to vote against the interim bill.

"Congress just voted for the first time in a month on a bill that doesn't address the core issues facing working families. Then they adjourned again until further notice," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday. "'Someday' and 'next time' doesn't cut it. Struggling families need a timeline."

Jayapal and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a joint statement Thursday that House Democrats "must lead with vision and urgency" by passing legislation that "meets the immense needs of this moment."

Earlier this month, the Progressive Caucus unveiled a slate of demands for the next coronavirus package that includes $2,000 monthly stimulus payments to all U.S. households, opening Medicare to the unemployed and uninsured, and suspension of all consumer debt collection.

"More than 47,000 Americans have died, 26 million people are unemployed, and there is no end in sight to this crisis," said Jayapal and Pocan. "Congress must do far more to direct relief to the everyday families who need help the most."

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