As Democrats continue to push for a fourth coronavirus response bill that Republicans aren’t yet convinced is needed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks she has some leverage with states requesting more federal assistance.
“We haven’t thought big enough because we still have these needs for state and local governments,” she said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “And that’s probably the biggest leverage we have to get another bill — Democrats and Republicans, mayors and governors, insisting that the need is there.”
Pelosi said governors in both parties are backing calls Democratic lawmakers have been making for President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to require companies to manufacture ventilators and personal protective equipment for medical workers to distribute across the country.
“They’ve been a strong force and hopefully will help us make the case for another bill,” she said.
So far, Republicans in Congress and the administration aren’t convinced on the need for a fourth bill and have said they want to see the third package — which contains more than $2 trillion in assistance to states, hospitals, businesses, individuals and families — implemented before considering additional legislation.
But funds provided in the third package — particularly the $150 billion for states — could quickly run dry. Pelosi hopes that states needing more funds will push their representatives and help build enough support for a fourth package.
But in the meantime, House Democrats are forging ahead in drafting the legislation to fit their vision of what is needed.
“We’ll be putting together our bill,” Pelosi said. “I hope we can do it together. I’m always a big advocate of the four corners approach, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans. … But we will be writing our bill on the basis of what we’re hearing from state and local, what we’re hearing from hospitals, what we know from what we wanted to do.”
Democrats’ interest in carrying over ideas that were rejected in previous bills is among the reasons Republicans are skeptical of a fourth phase of relief.
The rejected proposals Pelosi and her caucus are pushing include emergency worker regulations for first responders, expanded paid family and medical leave, a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding, money for pensions and a federal mandate with funding for states to set up vote by mail for the presidential election.
Another idea Democrats are floating is to use a fourth legislative package as a vehicle for a massive infrastructure spending package. Republicans seem open to the idea, with President Donald Trump earlier this week endorsing infrastructure funding as a means to stimulate the economy. But the parties are still far from being on the same page about what a package would like and how or whether it should be paid for.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal had started discussions about an infrastructure package before the pandemic but are accelerating their negotiations in light of the interest in moving something more quickly, Pelosi said.
The speaker said she spoke to Mnuchin Wednesday evening, mostly about implementation of the phase three legislation but also her interest in a phase four.
She said one of the things Democrats are trying to work with the administration on is providing more resources to state agencies in charge of administering unemployment insurance. The phase three legislation provided for a temporary benefit expansion of $600 per week on top of what states already pay to unemployed workers.
“Should we again do the $600?” Pelosi said. “I certainly think so, so that the people have the purchasing power to meet their needs but also spend it, inject demand into the economy.”
Pelosi said hospitals will also need more money in the fourth bill because they’re not bringing in revenue from elective surgeries.
“These hospitals are hemorrhaging money because they don’t have it. … The hospital piece of it is very big,” she said.
The topic of dispersing the phase three funding for hospitals came up in a conversation Pelosi had with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday.
“My guidance to him, since he asked for my advice, was spend it,” Pelosi said. “Don’t hoard it, spend it. Get it out there. We will get you more money as the need demands, but spend the money.”
Pelosi has said her caucus would work expeditiously to draft a fourth bill but she doesn’t envision a bipartisan bill being ready for at least a few weeks since the House and Senate are both in extended district work periods. She said “it’s obvious what is necessary to be done” and she hopes Republicans don’t let politics get in the way of the facts. “Whether some in Washington realize it or not, this virus is taking its toll very quickly and we need to be in front of it, rather than behind it,” Pelosi said.