Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the highly influential freshman lawmaker, also said she has wrestled with the issue even as she has seen the pandemic’s devastating influence back home.
“This administration, it seems what they want to do is cut another $1,200 check, but they don’t want to actually provide state and local [aid],” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That $1,200 is a nice little sugar high, and I support giving another stimulus check, but a second check in and of itself alone — if we’re not going to support state and local funding, if it’s not going to include significant investments in testing, tracing capacity and infrastructure — all it is is a little sugar high. It’s not going to solve the critical issues of the pandemic.”
The sentiment from Ocasio-Cortez and others reflects the mounting angst within the Democratic Caucus over the party’s handling of the coronavirus response and whether they need to do more to counteract the GOP’s messaging. The House passed a $3.4 trillion relief package in May but the Senate didn’t act on it.
Some Democrats worry that voters have already long forgotten about the House’s massive relief package from May and will take their anger out on both parties in November. They say that voting on additional bills could help remind people back home that Democrats have been pushing to deliver more aid all along.
“Let’s make sure the American people know what we stand for and where we are,” Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) said.
One idea, Meeks said, is to build out a new proposal to reflect the roughly $2 trillion price tag that Pelosi has described as the lowest figure Democrats would be willing to accept.
“I think we can reemphasize what we’re doing and how we’re intent on spending the money, and even where we made some reductions,” Meeks said.
But Pelosi has roundly resisted calls from some Democrats to negotiate a smaller coronavirus deal or put targeted bills on the floor addressing specific aspects of the pandemic including testing, unemployment aid and small business loans.
Talks between Pelosi and the White House, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have been stalled for weeks, even as the coronavirus continues to devastate the U.S. economy, leaving millions without jobs and at risk of losing their homes. More than 6.5 million Americans have been infected with the virus and more than 194,000 have died.
Senate Democrats blocked the GOP’s attempt to advance a “skinny” $500 billion coronavirus relief bill last week, leaving senators in both parties — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself — to speculate that congressional leaders wouldn’t get another coronavirus deal until after the election.
That prospect, however, has alarmed many House moderates, particularly those facing tough races in November. Some, led by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, have drafted their own long-shot compromise in an attempt to pry loose some kind of deal before November.
That group released a roughly $2 trillion plan on Tuesday that would renew now-expired programs like unemployment aid and small business loans, though it also includes billions in spending that Senate Republicans have already rejected, like cash for state and local governments or the U.S. Postal Service. Pelosi has indicated she would negotiate a $2.2 trillion package with Republicans but hasn’t been open to going below that number.
Pelosi didn’t address the Problem Solvers plan during Tuesday’s caucus call, but her position was made clear later in the day when several of her committee chairmen put out a joint statement dismissing the plan as falling “short of what is needed.”
Some of those same allies, including House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), also defended Pelosi’s strategy on the caucus call Tuesday.
“For us, not to cave in is really important,” Neal said on the call, according to Democrats who dialed in.
But not everyone was in agreement.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) did not sign onto the joint statement. And he said on the caucus call it was clear Democrats would have to address the coronavirus again before going home for the election, noting it’s been four months since the House passed its $3.4 trillion relief bill.
“We can’t leave town without a package,” DeFazio said, stressing Democrats pass a bill that will provide coronavirus aid at least until early next year, when there might be a Democratic president in the White House. “We need to talk about all of our principles in a five month bill.”