Massachusetts lawmakers painted the coronavirus stimulus package unveiled by Senate Republicans on Monday as inadequate and irresponsible in light of severe and widespread economic fallout sparked by the pandemic.
Despite general bipartisan agreement that another stimulus is needed during the crisis, Democrats and Republicans are at odds over nearly every proposal within the $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell laid out in parts Monday. Democrats are entering talks with Senate and Trump administration leaders pushing for a comprehensive plan, not “a piecemeal approach,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview Tuesday.
Neal checked off a list of demands Democrats are bringing to the negotiating table, including state and local government support excluded from the GOP proposal, extending an employee retention tax credit, “more money for hospitals, more money for food security, another round of relief for middle income people and enhanced unemployment insurance.”
Many Massachusetts lawmakers urged the Senate to simply pass the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the Democratic-led House of Representatives approved more than two months ago. McConnell called the Democrats’ package a “liberal wishlist,” and Republicans note the federal government has already spent more than $3 trillion to rejuvenate the economy after the outbreak shuttered businesses and schools nationwide.
The HEROES Act called for extending a $600 weekly enhancement to unemployment insurance through the end of the year. The supplemental benefit expires at the end of the week. Republicans proposed the boost be reduced to $200 on the premise that $600 is a disincentive to return to work.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” Neal said of GOP proposal. “When you’re looking at 30 million Americans now having applied for unemployment insurance, this is now a matter of survival. The pandemic is continuing to surge and when you look at the long term consequences of unemployment insurance, we were talking about a plan that was helping people to pay their rent and make their mortgage payments.”
Neal said he raised the unemployment issue during a conference call Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is negotiating with Senate counterparts alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Neal argued that “you can’t quit your job to get unemployment insurance” and said “some of the rumors are irresponsible.” While there may be some cases of people “delaying go back to work,” he argued there was “no real evidence” the weekly unemployment bonus was a widespread disincentive to return to work.
McConnell said Democrats are pretending “it is controversial that taxpayers should not pay people more not to work, than the people who do go back to work. The American people don’t call that a controversy. They call that common sense. They call that basic fairness.”
McConnell argues Republicans “created a serious framework” and successfully targeted needs in “jobs, health care and schools.”
The Republican proposal includes stimulus checks that are nearly identical to the ones provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but expands the definition of “dependent” to include $500 payments for children at home over the age of 18.
The plan also includes more than $100 billion to help schools reopen; more than $16 billion to assist with testing; and another $190 billion to refresh the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans to small businesses.
McConnell said Monday night that “the question is whether Democrats will come to the table in good faith. In March, when they did, we passed the CARES Act unanimously. In June, when they didn’t, police reform collapsed. It will take bipartisanship to make law.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley noted in a statement that many of the provisions in the CARES Act are done with, and that “next weekend, the rent will be due and 30 percent of Americans have little to no confidence they will make it.”
“People need real relief now, but the Occupant of the White House and Republicans in Congress continue to play games with people’s lives as they work to cut unemployment benefits and force students and teachers back to school before it’s safe to do so,” Pressley added. “It is shameful, it is callous and it is reckless.”
Pressley called for expanding stimulus payments to “our immigrant neighbors” and extending eviction and foreclosure moratoriums throughout the crisis in the final package, which lawmakers hope to finalize before a month-long recess begins in early August.
In a Twitter thread Monday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the next stimulus package was about economics, but “also about our values.”
Warren pinned the expiration of moratoriums, supplemental unemployment benefits and student loan relief on GOP leadership, saying “while Trump & Pence were bungling the COVID-19 response, Mitch McConnell refused for months to even entertain the idea of another relief bill. Now time’s up and his caucus still can’t get on the same page on the bill they’ve been writing in secret.”
“Magic wands and glitter dust won’t solve the economic crisis that’s getting worse,” she added. “Republicans need to wake up, extend unemployment benefits, expand the eviction moratorium and work with Dems on a real relief bill now. It’s the right thing to do for our economy and for our families.
The Democrats’ HEROES Act would have allocated $875 billion to state and local governments whose budgets have been decimated by unforeseen revenue losses, leading to more than 1.5 million municipal layoffs. For a town-by-town breakdown of HEROES Act allocations, read here.
The GOP plan includes no new funding for states and towns, but frees up $150 billion available from a pervious stimulus to let towns and states help cover budget shortfalls.
“State & local governments are struggling right now — costing roughly 1.5 million Americans their jobs,” Rep. Lori Trahan said on Twitter. “The GOP Senate must pass the #HeroesAct immediately to help our communities contend with serious budget shortfalls & keep services running!”
Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Tuesday. Pelosi told reporters that without additional aid to state and local governments, more municipal employees faced layoffs, which would only lead to an even bigger drain on federal resources.
“What are we saving by not helping them?” she said, referencing state and local governments and working families.
Neal noted that providing some funding for state and local governments has bipartisan backing, including from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Rep. Katherine Clark used McConnell’s own line against him, deriding the Republican proposal as a “corporate wishlist,” citing the Kentucky senator’s push for liability protections for companies so they don’t face lawsuits over coronavirus cases. McConnell has called liability protections a red line that must be included in the next package.
Rep. Seth Moulton also urged passage of the HEROES Act, saying businesses are hurting because Senate Republicans are “failing to act.”
Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III, entangled in an increasingly combative Democratic primary, also had sharp words after the roll out of the GOP proposal.
“It won’t just be be wholly inadequate, it will be a death sentence for desperate Americans who have waited months for relief” if the package excludes recurring stimulus payments (Markey and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris previously called for $2,000 payments for the duration of the pandemic), an extension of “full” unemployment insurance benefits and moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, Markey said.
Kennedy, meanwhile, said frontline workers grappling with the impacts of the virus have gone too long without personal protective equipment while the HEROES Act stalled in Congress. Kennedy called the Republican plan “a watered-down version” of the HEROES Act “that has no connection to the reality our communities face.”
One of the few bipartisan certainties in the Republican package is that tens of millions of Americans will receive direct checks similar to those in the CARES Act. For more on the stimulus checks, read here.
Pending changes during negotiations, the HEALS Act will see the IRS will send $1,200 relief checks to single taxpayers who earn up to $75,000 annually, and $2,400 to married taxpayers who file jointly and make up to $150,000.
Original story here.