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Speaker Pelosi holds a press conference on the state of COVID-19 relief negotiations. Ava DeSantis writes about what stops Congress from agreeing on COVID-19 relief, and what comes next.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held a press conference today. Pelosi stood beside a graphic, which she said outlined the difference between Democratic and Republican priorities on COVID-19 relief.
According to Pelosi’s graphic:
On Saturday, Trump signed a series of executive orders extending some COVID-19 relief. Trump’s orders extend unemployment benefits, institute a payroll tax holiday, defer student loan payments until the end of 2020, and extend federal eviction protections. Congress since failed to take action on COVID-19 relief as key provisions from the CARES Act expire.
The federal eviction moratorium in the CARES Act expired at the end of July, along with the CARES Act unemployment bonus. After the passage of the Heroes Act, Pelosi told the crowd of reporters, “Mitch McConnell said we need to pause. He hit the pause button. And since that time, since that 90 days, 3,750,000 Americans have become sick, have been added to the infected list….77,000 people have died, tens of millions more people are out of work.” Clearly, she concluded, “the virus did not take a pause.”
With today’s address, Pelosi sought to explain “why can’t we resolve our differences.” The inability of Congressional Democrats and Republicans to cooperate on COVID-19 relief, is due to the vastness of “those differences” in values. The GOP is a “hoax,” said Pelosi, not acknowledging the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
No funding for housing
The Democratic HEROES Act included $100 billion for a rental assistance fund and $75 billion for a homeowners’ assistance fund. This fund would cover rent, mortgage, and utility expenses. On the floor of the House, Speaker Pelosi described the need for this rental assistance. “Tens of millions of Americans have lost jobs with rental households disproportionately affected,” she said. “We cannot accept a situation in which, millions of families are forced to make this devastating choice between paying for rent, paying groceries, paying for prescriptions and other essentials.”
Pelosi’s Democratic colleagues spoke even more strongly on the issue. “Communities across this country need eviction protections and housing assistance in order to avert mass evictions and homelessness,” said Rep. Jesús Garcia (D-Illinois). “If we fail to act, recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the looming economic crisis will be impossible.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) claimed “without emergency rental assistance, [American] families could find themselves on the street, with their lives turned upside down, in the middle of a pandemic.”
The bill which provided for this assistance passed the house on a 232-179 vote, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. Today, Pelosi reminded the press “hundreds of millions of families are on the verge of eviction in our country. We tried to get this legislation earlier in the early COVID-19 bill they rejected.” This crisis, Pelosi claimed, “will take about $90 billion in the current situation. We have 100 billion dollars in the HEROES [Act] … [the GOP has] zero.”
Some Senate Republicans agree. The chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), said he supports the “general approach” of providing rental assistance, but wants this assistance to focus on those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. He did not clarify which groups this includes. Trump’s executive order on eviction protections does not provide rental assistance or ban evictions within federally subsidized housing, like the CARES Act. His order, much more conservatively, directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control to “consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions” are necessary to halt the spread of COVID-19.
In early July, President Trump tweeted, threatening to cut federal funding from schools which do not reopen in-person. “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but it is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, reiterated Trump’s threat, saying she seriously considers withholding federal funding from schools who hold classes virtually in the fall. “Schools have got to open up, there has got to be a concerted effort to address the needs of all kids and adults who are fear mongering and making excuses simply have got to stop doing it,” she said on Fox News.
“From the hundred biggest, the largest school districts in the country, the hundred largest, 62 of those largest districts have declared that they will open virtually, completely virtually, remote learning,” Pelosi commented. About 15 of the largest school districts open partially, holding some classes in-person
“To do virtual, to do actual, and to do hybrid, cost about the same amount of money,” Pelosi continued. “So, for the President to say he’s going to put the bulk of his money into schools that aren’t open, actually ignores the needs of our children.”
Beyond Pelosi’s concerns, it is unclear whether Trump has the legal authority to withhold funding on this basis without Congressional approval. DeVos was personally held in contempt of court for making unilateral funding decisions, refusing to yield to other authorities.
On testing, Pelosi once again called for President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act. Over a month ago, Pelosi had this same demand. “We can talk all we want about testing, tracing, etc., but if we don’t have the equipment, people are standing in line or their cars are in line to see whether they even will qualify to be tested,” she said.
Nine Democratic Senators penned a letter to Trump, reiterating this demand. “It is clear that these widespread shortages will not be fully resolved until the nation’s production capacity can be dramatically scaled up,” the letter reads, “and despite unprecedented global demand, private sector companies have been reticent to expand production capacity without support and direction from the federal government.”
USPS and voting by mail
The HEROES Act includes $25 billion in relief for the US Postal Service. Trump opposes any relief to the USPS. Pelosi accused the President of refusing this relief “to undermine absentee voting.” Trump made this connection himself, on “Mornings with Maria,” saying “[Democrats] need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
“The President is afraid of the American people,” Pelosi said, today. “He’s been afraid for a while, he knows that on the legit, it’d be hard for him to win.”
Pelosi: ‘We’ll meet you halfway’
After airing the intense divides between her party and their Republican colleagues, Pelosi promised “we’re ready to compromise. We know a first offer is not something they would necessarily accept because we frankly do not share values.”
“Chuck Schumer, leader Schumer, and I said, we’ll come down a trillion if you go up a trillion,” she offered. “We’ll meet you halfway.”
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