Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called on Republicans to stop denying the need for a fourth coronavirus response package and to join Democrats in a “four corners” leadership negotiation to get a bill ready for when Congress returns to Washington as early as April 20.
“That’s the way I’d like to do it, just have the four corners — House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans — putting together the bill again with the president’s folks at the table to see what he would be willing to sign so that we’re not losing time,” Pelosi said in a CNN interview.
So far it’s mostly been Democrats outlining what they want in a fourth package. Pelosi has talked about providing more resources to states, directing President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to mandate manufacturing of personal protective equipment, implementing emergency worker protections for first responders, expanding paid and family medical leave and investing in infrastructure, among other priorities.
“This is a reasonable amount of time to say we couldn’t get everything we wanted in the other bill; let’s begin to go down this path. But it is going to be a number of weeks because we’re not here. So rather than putting it off further, why aren’t we working together?” she said.
Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have said they want to see the more than $2 trillion phase three package implemented before determining whether a fourth phase is needed.
But Pelosi said the need for more legislation is already clear. For example, she said the $150 billion in aid for states and local governments provided in the third package was “not enough” and that even the $200 billion Democrats had proposed would not have been sufficient.
“We do need another bill, much of it to help the states and localities to meet the needs of their people,” she said, adding cities and states should not be going into deficit spending because of this pandemic.
But the federal government, already accustomed to working with a deficit, continues to dig into a deeper financial hole with every package Congress passes.
Pelosi said people making a big deal out of the roughly $2 trillion cost of the phase three package need to put that in perspective, noting it’s comparable to the cost of the 2017 GOP tax law.
“Let’s not make it sound like it’s something so exorbitant,” she said. “It’s for a much better purpose.”
Earlier Wednesday, Pelosi held a press call with Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio to discuss their plan to flesh out the $760 billion infrastructure framework they introduced in January and include funding authorizations for broadband, clean water, community health centers and mobility needs in the phase four package.
“I think we come back April 20, God willing and coronavirus willing. But shortly thereafter we should be able to move forward,” Pelosi said on the press call about the timing of moving phase four with the infrastructure investments.
She said on both the call and in the CNN interview that Democrats would soon roll out the education and housing components of their infrastructure plan — “perhaps tomorrow on some of it.”
Shortly after the CNN interview, McCarthy put out a statement about Congress’ coronavirus response.
“As the legislation from the first three phases is implemented, Republicans stand ready to work across the aisle to support the individuals and institutions that will need more help in the fight against the virus. But the American people cannot afford the distraction of continued attempts to force partisan objectives into our response,” the California Republican said.
Pelosi’s ambition to have the House return April 20, which would align with the tentative date McConnell has set for the Senate’s return, does not align with estimates on how long the country will need to quarantine to contain the virus.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia — home to many congressional staffers — all issued stay at home orders Monday that anticipate quarantines lasting beyond April 20. Washington D.C.’s order goes through April 24, Virginia’s order goes through June 10 and Maryland’s does not have an end date.
Pelosi said in the CNN interview that she would like to see all states implement stay at home orders.
“It works and that’s why the governors are doing it and they’re seeing a return on that initiative,” she said. “That is the only way that we’re going to contain the virus. ... The delay and denial does costs lives.”