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Pelosi punts on infrastructure in next coronavirus aid package

House speaker calls for more support for people and small business. Infrastructure, she said, can wait for a subsequent package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., is backing away from her push for an infrastructure measure in the next coronavirus stimulus package.Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., is backing away from her push for an infrastructure measure in the next coronavirus stimulus package.Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call) (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday backed away from proposals to include a major infrastructure package in a new round of coronavirus-related economic aid, arguing instead for a measure tailored to the immediate needs of individuals and small businesses.

She said the $2.3 trillion package signed into law last week was a good model to build on, but that gaps in the legislation need to be filled, such as extending enhanced unemployment insurance and doubling forgivable loans administered by the Small Business Administration.

“Let’s do what we just agreed to [last week], except make it more current,” Pelosi told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in an interview.

The California Democrat on Wednesday convened a conference call with House committee leaders to push for a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure plan to stimulate the economy. That was after President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted his desire to see as much as $2 trillion in overall infrastructure investment in the fourth bill.

But on Friday, Pelosi acknowledged to Cramer that that plan “may have to be for a bill beyond this.”

House Republicans have balked at the idea of a massive infrastructure plan as part of the next phase of COVID-19 relief. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, also speaking on CNBC Friday, said the focus should remain on implementing the prior three aid packages “and making sure they’re working.”

“If you’re going to do a phase four — and I’m one who agrees that infrastructure is important — but looking at how legislation is made here and what the speaker is requesting, it’s not about infrastructure,” he said, adding that Democrats were more interested in liberalizing immigration restrictions, clean energy measures and other things not related to the immediate crisis.

“Right now we should focus on implementing the trillions of dollars that we just passed, keeping people’s health and making sure they’re secure but also keeping people employed,” he said.  

Speaking to reporters after the CNBC appearance, Pelosi called for doubling the nearly $350 billion in small business lending funds from the law signed last week, designed to tide qualified firms over for two months and allow them meet payroll and pay rent, debt and other obligations. Small business loans, she said, “should be doubled down and not eight weeks, but maybe 16 weeks.”  

Pelosi also called for the fourth package to extend enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, including an added $600 weekly benefit on top of current state maximums, through September. The just-approved package provides the bigger unemployment payouts through July 31.

“Let’s take it to six [months] for the unemployment so that people have that confidence,” she said. “Hopefully they don’t need it, but they have that confidence.”

And she said she wants more direct payments to individuals. The last stimulus measure included rebates of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, with an extra $500 per child, though those amounts scale down above certain income thresholds.

The most recent bill, the single largest economic rescue package in U.S. history, was “a good model, it was bipartisan, it was signed by the president, but it’s not enough,” Pelosi said. She added that the next round should put more “money in the pockets of America’s working families to remove all doubt that they will have at least some resources” to weather the pandemic-caused economic shutdown.

She said she hoped that the next bill would have more money for state and municipal governments and hospitals, saying the third bill was “a down payment” for their needs. Pelosi added that she’d also like the next bill to include additional money for the District of Columbia and include safety regulations to protect hospitals workers and others exposed to the coronavirus.

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