United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than three-trillion-dollar coronavirus aid package Tuesday, encouraging Congress to “go big” with aid to cash-strapped states and struggling Americans.
The Heroes Act provides nearly one trillion dollars for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs and another $20bn in “hazard pay” for essential workers, according to a summary. It will offer $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, up to $6,000 per household. There is $75bn more for virus testing.
A vote is expected Friday.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Tuesday that it appears the sweeping Democratic-led bill “will be ready” to call legislators back to Washington, DC, for the vote.
“This is an unprecedented time in our history,” Hoyer said about the virus outbreak and economic shutdown. He said Congress needs to act in “unprecedented ways”.
But the legislation is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans are not planning to vote on any new relief until June, after a Memorial Day recess.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there is no “urgency” to act.
The new package, the fifth since March, is expected to carry another eye-popping price tag. President Donald Trump has signed into law nearly three trillion dollars in aid approved by Congress.
Its centrepiece is likely to be money to states and cities that are struggling to avoid layoffs in the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs and plummeting tax receipts during the economic shutdown. There will be money for virus testing and another round of direct cash payments and unemployment benefits for Americans, Pelosi said. She has not disclosed the cost.
As states weigh the health risks of reopening, McConnell said the nation needs to “regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.”
The Republican leader on Tuesday called the emerging Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities”.
On a conference call with House colleagues Monday, Pelosi urged Democrats to “go big”, according to person unauthorised to discuss the private caucus call and granted anonymity.
“To those who would suggest a pause, I would say the hunger doesn’t take a pause, the rent doesn’t take a pause,” Pelosi said late Monday on MSNBC. “We have a big need. It’s monumental.”
One provision holding up the package is how best to funnel direct cash to households. A proposal from Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, could be crucial to winning votes from the more liberal politicians. It would provide three-months of guaranteed paychecks for those making less than $100,000 a year.
Hoyer said the Jayapal proposal remains “under consideration”.
With the Capitol still partly closed, Hoyer told his colleagues on the call there would be 72-hour notice before returning to Washington for the vote, which could come Friday, the person said.
But Senate Republicans are in no rush to spend what could be trillions more on aid.
“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters Monday at the Capitol.
McConnell said he has been in close contact with the White House, assessing the aid Congress has already approved in response to the virus outbreak and next steps.
Trump is expected to meet on Tuesday with a group of Senate Republicans. “If we decide to go forward, we’ll go forward together,” McConnell said. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for healthcare providers and businesses that are reopening.
Senate Republicans are not expected to act on any further aid until after the Memorial Day recess, according to a senior Republican aide unauthorised to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.
The Senate is set to recess at the end of next week for a previously scheduled break, with senators scheduled to return June 1.
The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due the health concerns.
Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, including Tuesday, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.
At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other legislators have cycled in and out of quarantine.
From home, Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, convened a high-profile hearing Tuesday with Dr Anthony Fauci and others, on the virus.
Alexander told colleagues that ensuring adequate testing will the key to reopening the economy and schools.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.
“It should be big and it should be bold,” Schumer said Monday.