Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday highlighted the major shortcomings of House Democrats' newly introduced coronavirus stimulus legislation and said the final version of the bill must include $2,000 monthly payments to U.S. households, Medicare expansion, and a paycheck guarantee if Congress is to address the "most urgent needs facing working families right now."
"The Senate must improve this legislation," the Vermont senator said in a statement. "This unprecedented crisis demands an unprecedented legislative response."
"Instead of subsidizing COBRA—which would be a massive giveaway to the health insurance industry—I believe Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the healthcare bills of the uninsured and under-insured until this crisis is over."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
While applauding several provisions of the HEROES Act, including hazard pay for frontline workers and emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service, Sanders said the bill does not do enough to ensure economic security and healthcare coverage for ordinary people as tens of millions lose their jobs and insurance.
The HEROES Act proposes expanding federal subsidies for COBRA, an expensive healthcare program that allows laid-off workers to remain on their employer-provided health insurance plans.
Sanders said "instead of subsidizing COBRA—which would be a massive giveaway to the health insurance industry—I believe Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the healthcare bills of the uninsured and under-insured until this crisis is over."
House Democrats' bill proposes an additional round of one-time $1,200 stimulus payments, but Sanders said that is "not enough."
"The Senate must provide a $2,000 per month emergency payment for every American until this crisis is over," said the Vermont senator.
In place of the HEROES Act's proposed expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit—a convoluted reimbursement mechanism for employers—Sanders called for the inclusion of his more straightforward plan "to guarantee 100 percent of the paychecks of workers up to $90,000 a year" in order to stem ongoing mass layoffs.
"If we are to avoid another Great Depression, it is absolutely imperative that every worker in this country continues to receive a paycheck and benefits," said Sanders. "This is what is being done successfully in many European countries and what should be done here."
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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pushed to include her ambitious paycheck guarantee proposal in the bill but was rebuffed by House Democratic leaders who complained that the plan would be "too costly and too complicated."
The unemployment rate continues to rise rather than stabilize. This is a predictable result of our failure to respond at the scale of this crisis.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) May 14, 2020
The House is expected to vote on the HEROES Act as early as Friday. Jayapal and her fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) on Tuesday demanded that the vote be delayed, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected their call.
Jayapal and Pocan have advised the CPC's nearly 100 members to say they are "undecided" when asked how they plan to vote on the bill.
HuffPost reported that "late on Wednesday, CPC leaders went further, developing a plan to threaten to stop a vote on the bill if Democratic leaders don't improve paycheck protections and health care provisions, according to an aide to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the CPC's whip."
"The caucus estimates that it needs 18 votes to defeat the rule teeing up the bill for a vote, which it might assemble by reaching out to allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus," according to HuffPost.
While many major progressive advocacy groups quickly vowed to mobilize in support of the HEROES Act after it was unveiled Tuesday, grassroots organization Demand Progress on Wednesday pointed out the bill's numerous problematic provisions—including a bailout for corporate lobbying groups and subsidies for the insurance industry—and urged the House to vote down the legislation.
"House Leadership has repeatedly made it clear it does not take concerns of progressives seriously, and is actively seeking to disempower them," Demand Progress executive director David Segal said in a statement. "Progressives must oppose this bill so as to stop being taken for granted and to set us on a course that leads to stronger legislation moving forward."