It isn’t often that a socialist like Senator Bernie Sanders and a conservative like Senator Josh Hawley agree but this is 2020 and here we are. Sanders announced Friday that he is not able to support the COVID-19 relief bill being put together in the Senate. The concern he voiced is the same as Hawley’s – the relief package leaves out another round of $1200 checks that would go directly to taxpayers at or below a certain level of income.
Coronavirus relief checks sent directly to Americans most in need is a popular idea with both Republicans and Democrats but Republicans took it out of the current bill being discussed. It doesn’t make sense and Sanders is joining Hawley in speaking out against that. So far, Hawley is the only Republican senator saying the checks must be in the bill.
Talk about an odd couple. But, both of them are on the right side of the argument. People are struggling to hang on as the coronavirus is still very much with us. We know that Speaker Pelosi didn’t care about people enough to do the work of negotiating for relief before the presidential election. Now that Joe Biden will be the next president, suddenly she’s interested in supporting a smaller relief bill than she was demanding pre-election. There is a deadline to be met in order to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Lawmakers face a tight schedule to take action as congressional leaders push to include the coronavirus relief effort with the spending bill needed to avert a federal government shutdown after Dec. 11. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed optimism at her news conference Friday that “momentum” was building toward a deal, citing her conversation Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“The vehicle is leaving the station,” Pelosi said of including coronavirus relief with the government funding deal. “If there’s a vehicle and we can add this — once we see the text — that is what we will be doing.”
She added: “We have the time to do it. … We must get it done. We must get it done before we leave. We cannot leave without it.”
It would have been nice if Pelosi felt her new-found sense of urgency before she let the House go out for Thanksgiving recess without a bill, but that’s how she rolls. Families are left hanging while Nancy Pelosi focuses on scoring political points.
The small bipartisan group leading the discussion in the Senate include Senators Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Mark Warner, Jeanne Shaheen, Lisa Murkowski, and Bill Cassidy. The group is working off of a one-page outline, trying to turn it into legislative text for a relief bill. The pressure is on. The jobs report didn’t meet expectations on Friday and public health officials are busy sending out the alarm that the coronavirus is raging back in parts of the country.
The legislation pushed by the bipartisan group would provide hundreds of billions of dollars to jobless Americans. It would also provide some funding for states and cities hit by declines in revenue amid the pandemic, and offer new funding for struggling small businesses by reauthorizing the Paycheck Protection Program. It would provide smaller amounts of money, in the tens of billions, to a number of other critical needs, including schools; child care; hunger; rental assistance; and other pressing demands.
Republican opposition is over the money going to state and city funding. Conservative advocacy groups like Freedomworks have organized to pressure Republican lawmakers to oppose that part of the bill. Liberal lawmakers are pushing for another round of checks for taxpayers. As I mentioned, it is odd that Senator Hawley is the only Republican senator who is working to include that in the relief bill. That part should be a no-brainer for both sides of the aisle. There is an informal deadline of Monday to reach an agreement.
One idea to make the bill more appealing to Republicans is to distribute state and local aid based on a formula accounting for a jurisdiction’s loss of revenue, not its population. And, Sanders wants to omit the provision that includes a “liability shield” for companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
“Given the enormous economic desperation facing working families in this country today, I will not be able to support the recently announced Manchin-Romney COVID proposal unless it is significantly improved,” Sanders said in a statement, citing the inclusion of a “liability shield” intended to insulate firms from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Sanders added of the absence of stimulus checks in the bill: “Tens of millions of Americans living in desperation today would receive absolutely no financial help from this proposal. That is not acceptable.”
Some congressional aides speculated that Sanders’s opposition might ironically help seal a bipartisan accord, giving Republican senators cover to back a larger package by highlighting the demands inside the Democratic Party for a multitrillion-dollar deal.
Time is running out and it is inexcusable that relief has not been forthcoming for American taxpayers trying to hold on until the country fully opens back up and jobs come back. The White House is working with the lawmakers, hoping that positive developments are coming. President Trump doesn’t support funding of state and local governments so perhaps a new formula will appeal to him.