Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday laid out Democratic demands for the next phase of the legislative coronavirus response — a day before the House is scheduled to vote on an estimated $2.2 trillion deal that is the largest economic assistance package in U.S. history.
Pelosi said she spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday morning and laid out her wish list for follow-up legislation:
- “A better definition of who qualifies for family and medical leave”
- Health care worker and pension protections, which she said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said could be done in the next phase
- Increasing SNAP benefits by 15 percent
- More funds to state and local governments
- Free coronavirus testing, doctor visits and follow-up treatment
- Equitable funding for Washington, D.C., residents. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she said of the Senate’s decision to treat D.C. as a territory rather than a state, which deprives the district of at least $750 million more in emergency funding. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a decision. Let’s correct that.”
Senators bolted to their home states after voting late Wednesday to send the bill over to the House. McConnell isn’t expected to call the chamber back into session until after Easter, or until lawmakers have come to terms on any follow-up legislation to the package advanced Wednesday.
The speaker said she will continue to push for a higher amount of direct payments to Americans, noting House Democrats’ bill would have given individuals $1,500 while the bill passed by the Senate provides $1,200.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the end of direct payments,” she said.
The speaker said she expects a “strong bipartisan vote” for the legislation on Friday.
Some liberal groups supporting primary challengers to Democratic incumbents are criticizing the bill for not going far enough on such issues as student debt cancelation, and voting by mail in every state.
“This bill is a giant check to the Trump re-election campaign,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement.
Angel Padilla, national policy director for Indivisible, said the final bill was an improvement over the original released by McConnell, but House Democrats should change it further.
“Any legislative response to the COVID-19 outbreak must safeguard our democracy, support workers over corporate profits; and address the underlying inequalities that left us so susceptible to a pandemic in the first place,” Padilla said in a statement.
Pelosi sidestepped a question about whether Democratic support would be unanimous on Friday, saying only that they would pass the bill.
She added that the bill would be a “victory” for the American people but “if somebody has a different point of view, they can put it in the record. But we’re not worried about that.”
House Financial Services ranking member Patrick McHenry in a phone interview with Bloomberg News said he agrees with Pelosi that the stimulus bill will pass tomorrow.
“I believe the president will have it signed into law before business opens Monday,” the North Carolina Republican said.
McHenry disagreed with Pelosi on the need to immediately begin drafting a forth legislative package to respond to the crisis
“Well, let’s see what happens,” he said. “I see a lot of people in Washington desperate for more action for their pet priorities.”
McHenry suggested lawmakers see if over the next few weeks the financial situation for workers and small businesses improves from provisions in the bill advancing now and whether the curve on the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. starts to flatten.
“I think those things can happen without government action,” he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., also favored determining if the first three phases of legislation were helping with recovery before moving to a fourth phase.
“First you have to let the [Phase 3] bill work before I can answer the question, ‘Is it enough?’” McCarthy said. “If something is needed in the future, let’s make that decision but let’s not make that decision without allowing these bills to be put into the economy.”
The Department of Labor reported Thursday that unemployment claims leaped to 3.28 million in the week ending March 21 — shattering the previous weekly record set in 1982 — as the House prepares to take up the Senate bill that would increase unemployment compensation and broaden the range of workers who would be eligible.
The legislation, which the Senate passed Wednesday after six days of intense negotiation, provides direct cash payments of up to $1,200 to most Americans, bolsters small businesses via an expansive loan program, and includes a $340 billion appropriations supplement.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.