'We Can and Must Do Better': House Passes Massive $3 Trillion Relief Package, But Progressives Say More Must Be Done

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks past the Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2020. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

'We Can and Must Do Better': House Passes Massive $3 Trillion Relief Package, But Progressives Say More Must Be Done

"We must give people real relief and certainty before this crisis gets worse—because if we fail to do so, it will."

The Democrat majority House of Representatives passed a massive, $3 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package known as the HEROES Act roughly along party lines on Friday night despite progressive concerns over the bill's provisions.

"The truth is that while a significant step in the right direction, the bill does not go far enough to provide urgently needed economic relief to the millions of people who lost their income and whose families are now standing in food lines," Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement Friday. "We must fight for legislation that upholds their dignity and protects their lives."

The relief package, which was a priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was passed after hours of debate and amendments throughout Friday. The bill was the subject of intense back and forth among progressives, with the need for more economic relief being weighed against the legislation's giveaways to big business and the rich.

The final bill includes $1 trillion in relief aid to states and localities, extends unemployment benefit enhancements to the end of January, and provides another one-time $1,200 stimulus payment to every American. The package also includes legislation to stop overcharging prisoners for phone and internet as well as extending food stamp funding and protecting the Post Office.

But, as The Nation's Robert Borosage reported, the bill was meant to send a clear message to the Democratic Party's progressive wing:

The real message in the bill was sent not to Trump but to progressives inside and outside Congress. With Congress dispersed, Pelosi and her committee chairs maintained iron control of what went into the bill. And the message to progressives was clear: Not yet. No to recurring cash payments. No to guaranteed paychecks that would keep workers off unemployment, despite Representative Pramila Jayapal's success in gaining widespread support for the proposal across the caucus. No to Medicare paying the health care costs of the unemployed. No to a jobs guarantee. No to a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments. No to student debt forgiveness. No public ownership stake in companies that are bailed out. No prohibition of corporate mergers or greater protection against private equity predators' picking the bones of weakened companies. No major green infrastructure initiative.

Journalist Andrew Perez pointed to the bill's bailout of lobbying firms as an example of the HEROES Act's shortcomings and the priorities of Democratic leadership.

"There are some decent things in the stimulus bill," Perez said, "but progressives should never accept voting for garbage like a special loan fund for the lobbying groups that fight every single piece of their agenda, from Medicare for All, to a Green New Deal, to any and all worker protections."

Jayapal (D-Wash.) was a "no" vote on the package, citing in a column for Common Dreams the bill's lack of a paycheck protection guarantee, universal healthcare, and small business protections.

The congresswoman, the only progressive in the House to vote against the final package, wrote that the bill was ultimately insufficient to meet the needs of defeating the disease:

Congress must be honest with ourselves and with our constituents: The historic public health and economic crisis Americans are facing will not end on its own. We must beat the virus. To beat the virus, we must keep people home. To keep people home, we must make sure they get their paycheck, can access their health care and don't feel pressured to return to work before it's safe. That's the only way that we can give the American people real relief and certainty before this crisis gets worse--because if we fail to do so, it will.

Progressive advocacy group Indivisible's national policy director Angel Padilla acknowledged those shortcomings while generally praising the bill's passage.

"We support this bill but admit it still contains major room for improvement, particularly in protecting paychecks and expansions to health care coverage," said Padilla. "We will continue to fight for those improvements while working to ensure its strong provisions remain intact when the bill meets the Grim Reaper in the Senate."

People's Action echoed calls for more relief, saying in a statement that the package's deficiencies made it clear Congress would need to return sooner rather than later to pass more relief for Americans in a "true People's Bailout."

"That would include cancelling rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis; enrolling the uninsured into Medicare and ensuring everyone in the U.S. can access healthcare if needed; and direct cash payments lasting until the economy recovers," the group said. "We will continue to push elected officials to include these priorities in this and future relief packages."

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