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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on December 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on December 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As White House Floats Skimpier Relief Bill in Bid for GOP Support, Progressives Warn Going Small Would Be 'Catastrophic'

"Congress should err on the side of offering generous relief to a larger pool of people, rather than too little."

Jake Johnson, staff writer

With the Biden White House reportedly weighing the possibility of splitting its proposed coronavirus relief package into two parts in an effort to attract some Republican support, leaders of the Congressional Progressives Caucus are warning that anything less than the president's $1.9 trillion opening offer would represent an unacceptable betrayal of economically desperate Americans.

In a letter (pdf) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday, more than two dozen members of the CPC Executive Board wrote that "if we aim too low, the financial consequences will be catastrophic, long-lasting, and borne by the American families who can least afford it."

The letter was signed by CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), deputy chair Katie Porter (D-Calif.), caucus whip Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and 21 other lawmakers.

"We are concerned by the views of some in Congress who are advocating for a scaled-back, 'wait and see' approach," the letter states, alluding to the bipartisan group of lawmakers that the White House economic team has sought out for input on coronavirus relief in recent days, despite warnings that outreach to austerity-obsessed Republicans is both futile and dangerous.

"The families and small businesses that make up the economy do not have the luxury of 'waiting to see' how this public health and economic crisis progresses—they need relief now."
—Congressional Progressive Caucus

"This goes against both the economic consensus and the voices of our constituents, who are crying out for additional relief to keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads," the letter continues. "The families and small businesses that make up the economy do not have the luxury of 'waiting to see' how this public health and economic crisis progresses—they need relief now."

Pointing to the Obama administration's woefully inadequate response to the Great Recession as a cautionary tale, the progressive lawmakers cautioned that "if we do not act now, a prolonged, sluggish economic recovery will surely result."

The letter goes on to reject "an overemphasis on targeting aid" such as the $1,400 direct relief payments Biden has proposed. As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, a growing chorus of right-wing lawmakers from both parties is pushing the president to further restrict eligibility for the checks in order to deny relief to those who supposedly "don't need it."

"Congress should err on the side of offering generous relief to a larger pool of people, rather than too little," the CPC letter argues. "The cost of doing too little too slowly far outweighs the concerns about a relatively small share of households getting 'too much.'"

The CPC's warning against a watered-down relief package came as fresh reporting from Politico indicated that the Biden administration is considering breaking its proposed coronavirus legislation into two parts in a bid to win GOP support for at least one.

According to Politico, a bipartisan deal "would have skimpier funding for state and local relief (if any), and less money for vaccine distribution, unemployment insurance, and nutritional assistance, or SNAP. It would have far more targeted relief checks. We are told by administration sources that a bill of this sort might be in the $600-$800 billion range."

Under that approach, the Biden administration would "take everything that's left out of the skinny relief package and add it to Biden's 'Build Back Better' plan," Politico reported. The latter package would likely be passed through budget reconciliation, an expedited process that requires just a simple majority.

In a tweet Thursday morning, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki denied that the administration is "looking to split a package in two."

"The needs of the American people are urgent from putting food on the table, to getting vaccines out the door to reopening schools. Those aren't partisan issues," said Psaki. "We are engaging with a range of voices—that's democracy in action."

Given the persistent spread of the deadly coronavirus and still-deteriorating economic conditions, progressives have warned Biden against wasting precious time reaching out to Republicans who are openly hostile to his agenda and averse to spending what experts say is necessary to bring the U.S. out of deep recession.

Under the leadership of incoming chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate Budget Committee has already begun work on a resolution that would jumpstart the process of moving a relief package through reconciliation, which would not require Republican support.

"People can talk to whoever they want to talk to, but this country faces enormous crises," Sanders said Tuesday. "Elections have consequences. We're in the majority, and we've got to act."

Read the CPC leadership's full letter:

Madam Speaker and Majority Leader Schumer:

The leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is united in our belief that the current health and economic emergencies demand bold, swift action. With the economy in crisis, rock-bottom interest rates, and no sign of inflation, the economic consensus is clear: the best hope for the economy is a massive public investment to create jobs, raise wages, and keep people out of poverty. If we aim too low, the financial consequences will be catastrophic, long-lasting, and borne by the American families who can least afford it.

We are concerned by the views of some in Congress who are advocating for a scaled-back, "wait and see" approach. This goes against both the economic consensus and the voices of our constituents, who are crying out for additional relief to keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads. The families and small businesses that make up the economy do not have the luxury of "waiting to see" how this public health and economic crisis progresses—they need relief now.

The economic experts are with us on the need for urgent and aggressive action. Just last month, leading economists estimated that we will need no less than $3 trillion in immediate relief to get our economy out of this hole. We cannot revive our economy in the short term and put our nation back on the path to growth in the long term without recommitting to the principle of fiscal responsibility, which directs us to pursue the appropriate level of spending to maintain a healthy rate of expansion. President Biden's rescue package, which comes in at $1.9 trillion, is a critical first step in meeting the economic need, but it is a minimum floor—determined by the needs of the American people in this dire moment. If anything, it must be strengthened, not weakened.

The lessons of the Great Recession are informative on this point. As Treasury Secretary Yellen explained in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, the risks of doing too little during an economic downturn far outweigh the risks of doing too much. If we do not act now, a prolonged, sluggish economic recovery will surely result. The pain of a prolonged recession will be widespread—but it will hit women and Black and brown people most. The American people cannot afford a repeat of the jobless recovery from the 2009 economic crisis and we must take bold action to prevent such an outcome.

Our economy is on the brink, with millions of people unable to afford the basics, states, cities, and tribal governments facing dire budget shortfalls, and the pandemic continuing to surge across the country. Experts agree that the economic benefits of investing in recovery, helping families and small businesses stay afloat, and protecting frontline workers will far outweigh the costs of any new federal borrowing. Deficit-financed investments, especially those targeted toward poor, working-class, and middle-class communities, will drive broad-based economic growth. Manufactured concerns about the debt will only get in the way of urgently needed action and delay relief for millions of families.

Finally, we want to address the concerns around "targeting" of additional relief, particularly as it relates to survival checks. President Biden promised $2,000 survival checks and we must now deliver on those checks. We caution against an overemphasis on targeting aid, when we know that it comes at the expense of delivering relief quickly and efficiently. In addition, at this moment of fiscal crisis, Congress should err on the side of offering generous relief to a larger pool of people, rather than too little. The cost of doing too little too slowly far outweighs the concerns about a relatively small share of households getting "too much," particularly given that these survival payments, as proposed, are not currently retroactive and are based on incomes that have likely gone down substantially as people's hours and earnings were cut back or eliminated completely.

Thank you for your strong leadership on behalf of the millions who are suffering as a result of this pandemic. This is truly our work to deliver For the People. We look forward to working with you in the coming weeks to pass a robust rescue package that meets the scale of the health and economic crises we face.


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