Strategists urge Pelosi to take $1.8 trillion COVID-19 relief package — and put the onus on Senate GOP
With tens of millions still out of work and struggling to afford basic necessities as the coronavirus-induced economic collapse shows no sign of relenting, some progressives are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accept a far-from-perfect $1.8 trillion compromise relief package offered by the Trump White House, warning that failure to pass any additional aid before the November election would be both morally and politically disastrous.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented the $1.8 trillion counteroffer to Pelosi last Friday in an effort to revive talks that President Donald Trump threw into chaos, and nearly killed entirely, just days earlier.
While the top-line figure is a far cry from the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May and significantly less than the $2.2 trillion revised version approved earlier this month, the proposed legislation—which has drawn criticism from both Pelosi and Senate Republicans—would provide substantial relief to the unemployed, an additional round of stimulus checks, and $300 billion in desperately needed funding for state and local governments.
"People in need can't wait until February," tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), alluding to the likelihood that failure to pass relief legislation before next month's election would likely delay any future stimulus talks until after the next president's inauguration.
"$1.8 trillion is significant and more than twice [the size of the] Obama stimulus," Khanna added. "Make a deal and put the ball in [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell's court."
Though Khanna appears to be alone among progressive members of Congress in publicly calling on Pelosi to take the White House up on its $1.8 trillion offer, several left-leaning commentators have made similar arguments in favor of a compromise relief deal in recent days as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take lives and the nation's economic situation remains dire.
"This [$1.8 trillion offer] is a much better deal than I have believed possible at any point since the passage of the March bill," said HuffPost's Zach Carter, referring to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. While nowhere near flawless in the eyes of progressives, the CARES Act's $600-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits—which expired at the end of July amid GOP opposition—proved highly effective in mitigating income losses for tens of millions of newly jobless workers and helping to prop up the economy.
Carter argued that political concerns over potentially handing Trump a legislative victory just ahead of the November election pale in comparison to the material consequences of refusing to approve additional relief for out-of-work Americans, hungry families, and those facing eviction. Accepting the compromise offer despite its numerous shortcomings, Carter said, would be both good politics for Democrats and a much-needed financial boost for countless desperate families across the nation.
"If McConnell blocks the deal, that's bad for the country, but great for Democrats," Carter tweeted. "[Ninety-one percent] of the country wants another stimulus bill. Let McConnell take the heat for it. Let him explain why he's focused on SCOTUS instead of a bipartisan deal supported by the president."
In his newsletter on Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama, echoed progressives in making the case that, contrary to the "consensus among the majority of Democratic political strategists" and despite the potential "political risks," a pre-election deal with the White House on coronavirus relief "is the right thing to do in the short, medium, and long term—for the country and the [Democratic] Party."
Freelance journalist Jon Walker highlighted one potential risk for Democrats on Twitter. "Everyone saying 'Pelosi take the deal' haven't thought what happens when House passes it tomorrow but McConnell on Thursday modifies it to be only $600 billion plus liability [protections] and corporate giveaway," wrote Walker. "Then Trump comes out for the McConnell bill and attacks Dems [for standing in the way of relief]."
Pfeiffer urged Democrats against blindly accepting a "bad deal" and said they "shouldn't swallow any poison pills like liability protection for corporations."
"However, if there is a deal on the table that helps the unemployed whose benefits are running out, the people waiting in long lines at food banks, and the families staring down the barrel of eviction, we need to take it," Pfeiffer wrote.
"Rejecting any chance at a deal now means asking these struggling families to hold on for another couple of months before they get any help," Pfeiffer continued. "Likely rejection by Senate Republicans is an argument for, not against, cutting a deal. If Mitch McConnell and his half dozen or so vulnerable Republicans want to ignore or vote down a relief package, let them do it. And then Democrats can hammer the living daylights out them in ads and on the campaign trail."
While there are potential risks, Democrats should aggressively pursue a COVID Relief deal with Trump. It's the righ… https://t.co/uhnt78o28L— Dan Pfeiffer (@Dan Pfeiffer) 1602427788.0
Thanks in large part to a president whose behavior has been even more erratic than usual since his departure from the hospital last Monday, stimulus negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders remain chaotic and unpredictable. On Friday, just days after demanding an end to the relief negotiations, Trump claimed in an interview that he "would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering."
In a conference call on Saturday, Senate Republicans balked at the idea of spending nearly $2 trillion more on additional coronavirus relief, voicing the belief that approving more aid will harm, not help, their hopes of holding a majority in the upper chamber.
"There's no appetite right now to spend the White House number or the House number," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a close ally of McConnell, said during the call, according to Politico.
Pelosi, meanwhile, sent a letter to House Democrats on Saturday dismissing the White House stimulus offer as "insufficient in meeting families' needs."
"As I have said before, the devil and the angels are in the details," Pelosi wrote. "With over 213,000 Americans tragically having died, nearly 7.7 million having been infected, and millions having lost jobs and income security, it is long overdue for Republicans to get serious and work with us to defeat this crisis."
In a column last Friday, The Week's Ryan Cooper pointed to ongoing mass layoffs—around 1.3 million additional Americans filed jobless claims in the week ending October 3—and warned that "if Congress doesn't pass another round of economic rescues, then this will be one of the worst winters in American history."
"If Trump loses the election, as seems likely at this point, then there will be no more rescue until late January at the earliest," Cooper wrote. "And if Democrats don't take the Senate, which is also quite possible, there may not be any until January 2023. Let's get some cash for the American people while the getting is good."