Making a commitment many progressives have been seeking, Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged to set the terms in the next round of negotiations by having the next bill originate with her House Democratic majority. Her members would thus not be left in a take-it-or-leave-it position on a product largely worked out in the Senate.
“We’ll pass it in the House,” she said. “If [the Senate wants] to pass their own bill, we’ll go to conference. If they want to make some contribution that might be an improvement and something we can all agree on, we’ll go to the table.”
The components of the next rescue bill, she said, would include federal assistance to state and local governments and an increase in food stamp payments. The House will also push for rental and mortgage assistance, help for the unemployed who have lost job-based health insurance to stay on their employer plans and funds to rescue the postal system.
Other provisions would help states improve their unemployment insurance systems, provide funding for universal voting by mail in November’s elections, and establish stronger health protections and hazard pay for those on the front lines of the response to the coronavirus. “We call it our heroes bill,” she said, to support those “who make our society work, who are risking their own lives to save other people’s lives.”
Pelosi’s tough words about the next round of negotiations were in part a response to McConnell’s rejection of what his office has called “blue state bailouts.” The Republican leader told conservative talk-show host and Post contributing columnist Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that “we’re not ready to just send a blank check down to states and local governments to spend any way they choose to.”
The House speaker jabbed back in the interview: “Look at the language of Mitch McConnell: ‘I’m not bailing out blue states, they should go bankrupt.’ Really? Really? How insecure is he in his own race in Kentucky to have to resort to that pathetic language?”
The bill to give more funds to the small-business-assistance program that passed the Senate on Tuesday and heads to the House for a likely vote on Thursday reflects changes that Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi insisted on. It nearly doubles the $250 billion McConnell proposed to $484 billion. It includes $25 billion for coronavirus testing and calls for a national testing plan, more help for hospitals and changes to the small-business program to get more money to businesses that lack connections to big banks.
It should’ve done more. But McConnell, promising another rescue bill lay down the road, argued that the small-business support should not be delayed by fights over food stamps or local aid. Now, he’s doing a cynical two-step. The man who was not worried about busting the budget with a big corporate tax cut in 2017 is suddenly worried about — deficits.
“We need to push the pause button here,” McConnell said in a Tuesday interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We have racked up $2.7 trillion in national debt without much consideration of the impact of that on the future of this country.”
Deficits, it seems, start mattering only when it comes time to help hungry people, or renters pressed to the wall, or those who have lost their health insurance. Do Trump and McConnell really want to say that governors should take responsibility for dealing with the coronavirus crisis, but sorry, the federal government won’t be there to help their states out of the mess this is creating? That’s where McConnell seemed to be headed in his interview with Hewitt when he suggested state and local governments might be able to “use the bankruptcy route.”
Democrats might consider calling McConnell’s bluff by proposing provisional tax increases on the well-off in the next package, including a rollback of the corporate tax giveaway, that would not kick in until the economy recovered. Sure, Republicans would reject them, but in doing so they’d underscore how fake their deficit concerns are.
Pelosi, for her part, was serene in dismissing McConnell’s current stand as a bluff. Trump, for example, has already endorsed state and local aid. “McConnell will do whatever the president wants,” she said, “and the president needs this.” But just to be sure this time, she’s going to have Democrats pass their own bill.