Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have objected that one of their chief priorities — federal funding to cover payrolls for businesses — wasn’t included in the House measure.
Jayapal pushed hard for inclusion of the “Paycheck Guarantee” program in the new bill, but Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) turned it down, saying the proposal is too costly and complicated. The Jayapal plan — which is backed by more than 60 House Democrats — has a price tag of more than $600 billion for six months. Neal instead supported an extension of the “Employee Retention Tax Credit” backed by Democratic moderates, which still costs more than $200 billion.
Jayapal’s complaints, which she raised directly to Pelosi on a caucus call on Tuesday, reflect broader concerns among Democrats, some of whom feel Pelosi and her committee leaders have largely drafted the bill without rank-and-file input. Republicans and the White House also were not involved in drafting the measure.
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday that he and Pelosi “believe the Jayapal proposal has great merit to it” and said it could be considered in future relief bills.
“This is not going to be the last word nor the final word as we go forward. And her proposal is certainly under great discussion,” Hoyer said. “We want all members to support this legislation with that provision in or out.”
Progressives privately acknowledge they are in a difficult spot to push Democratic leaders in any direction. Even the most liberal Democrats say they’re unlikely to stage an uprising against this bill because they can’t vote against vital aid for their districts, depriving themselves of key leverage that might otherwise help get their priorities into the bill.
Democrats released their sprawling package, known as the Heroes Act, on Tuesday afternoon. The roughly 1,800-page legislation includes $875 billion for cash for state and local governments, what Democratic leaders say is the centerpiece of the fifth coronavirus relief package. It also includes $20 billion each for tribal nations and for U.S. territories.
The legislation also includes a slew of liberal priorities left out of previous bills, including $75 billion for mortgage relief and $100 billion in assistance for renters, $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service and $3.6 billion to shore up elections.
The bill goes further than previous bills in other ways, too: It would include another round of $1,200 checks for adults making up to $75,000. Under this bill, kids would receive the same amount, instead of $500. It would make $10 billion available to small businesses that haven’t received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
It also includes policy changes sought long before the pandemic, such as restoring the ability to deduct state and local taxes, which had been capped in the GOP tax bill in 2017. Another provision would allow cannabis businesses expanded access to bank accounts and loans.
The package also includes a bipartisan bill related to the collection of hate crimes data.
Before the measure was released, Pelosi had cautioned members on a Tuesday call that some would be “disappointed” by what was left out of the bill. Pelosi said she and her committee chairs had initially assembled $4 trillion worth of policy proposals, but were forced to winnow it down during final drafting.
“Everything is big, and we can’t do everything in this bill,” Pelosi said, according to people on the call. Democrats have signaled that more legislation would follow, such as a recovery package with major infrastructure investments.
The Democratic bill represents a dramatic escalation of the party’s efforts to deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic. The shutdown of the U.S. economy has spurred unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, and Democrats, like Trump and Republicans, are struggling to respond.
Republicans dismissed the bill even before the text was public, calling it a Democratic wishlist that would go nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. It’s unlikely Congress passes another relief package before June due to Republican resistance, despite Pelosi’s efforts to get her bill to the House floor by the end of this week.
“I don’t think there’s any sense of urgency until we see how some of these programs that are already authorized and funded are working, and it seems like, at least right now, they’re working pretty well,” Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol.
“Before we borrow the next $3 trillion, let’s see how this works,” Thune (R-S.D.) said.
Still, Pelosi and her deputies hope it will pressure Senate GOP leaders into negotiations on a next package, even as McConnell has said Congress should hit “pause” until lawmakers can determine the success of its previous bills.
Democrats acknowledge that their behemoth proposal, whose summary alone is 90 pages, is more of a talking point than legislation that they expect to become law.
The coronavirus relief aid isn’t the House’s only legislative work this week. Pelosi and other top Democrats will also push through a House rules change that will allow proxy voting and remote hearings.
There had been bipartisan talks between Hoyer and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on the issue, but the two sides haven’t been able to find a compromise. Democrats now say they will move ahead with a rules change anyway.
The House Rule Committee will meet Thursday to approve the plan, which will allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for colleagues who can’t travel to Washington amid the outbreak. The full House would then take up the rules change — which would only be in effect during this current crisis — on Friday.