House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package Tuesday, a sweeping effort with $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers and a new round of cash payments to individuals.
The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as Friday. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no “urgency.” The Senate will wait until after Memorial Day to consider options.
“We must think big, for the people, now,” Pelosi said from the speaker’s office at the Capitol.
“Not acting is the most expensive course,” she said.
Lines drawn, the latest pandemic response from Congress will test the House and Senate — and U.S. President Donald Trump — as Washington navigates the extraordinary crisis with the nation’s health and economic security at stake.
The Democrats’ Heroes Act is built around nearly $1 trillion for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs, focused chiefly on $375 billion for smaller suburban and rural municipalities largely left out of earlier bills.
The bill will offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and launches a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages. There is $75 billion more for virus testing.
It would continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits. It adds a 15% increase for food stamps, new subsidies for laid-off workers to pay health insurance premiums under a COBRA law and a special “Obamacare” sign-up period. For businesses, it provides an employee retention tax credit.
There’s $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers on the front lines of the crisis.
Pelosi drew on U.S. history — and poetry — to suggest “no man is an island” as she called on Americans to respond to the crisis with a strategy of science, virus testing and empathy.
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“There are those who said, ‘Let’s just pause,’” she said. “Hunger doesn’t take a pause. Rent doesn’t take a pause. Bills don’t take a pause.”
But the 1,800-page package is heading straight into a Senate roadblock.
Republicans are wary of another round of aid and McConnell declared the Democratic proposal a grab bag of “pet priorities.” He said Tuesday it is not something that “deals with reality.”
The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due to 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, 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 lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.
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