House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is forging ahead on her plans to develop another coronavirus-related relief package to address the ongoing public health crisis, including more direct payments to Americans and increased unemployment benefits.
Pelosi, in a letter addressed to House members, said she hopes to craft the legislation and bring it to the House floor for a vote later this month.
Both chambers of Congress are slated to return to the nation’s capital on April 20, but it’s largely dependent on the nation’s stability as the deadly novel virus continues to wreak havoc across the country.
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Leaders in both the House and Senate have acknowledged Congress’ return on the 20th is not certain.
“The coronavirus is moving swiftly, and our communities cannot afford for us to wait. House Democrats will continue to work relentlessly and in a bipartisan way to lift up American families and workers to protect their health, economic security and well-being today and throughout this crisis,” Pelosi said Friday.
In the letter sent over the weekend, Pelosi said she wants to double down on the “down-payment we made in the CARES ACT” by passing more legislation aimed at providing relief to ailing communities.
Pelosi said she plans to extend and expand on legislation that will further assist small businesses, including farmers. The legislation will also strengthen unemployment benefits and will include a second round of direct payments to Americans, Pelosi said.
Pelosi acknowledged during a press call last week that she remains in touch with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who worked incredibly closely with lawmakers on Capitol Hill during the last round of negotiations on the $2 trillion stimulus package.
Pelosi said the legislation will also provide more aid to state and local governments, hospitals, community health centers, health systems and health workers, and first responders.
“Our communities cannot afford to wait, and we must move quickly. It is my hope that we will craft this legislation and bring it to the floor later this month,” Pelosi said in her letter.
Pelosi has maintained a presence on Capitol Hill despite the fact that most members returned to their home states immediately after passing the $2 trillion stimulus package.
The 80-year old speaker has made the rounds on several cable stations conducting interviews on the need for a fourth relief bill in recent days.
The renewed focus on providing relief and aid to stricken American workers is a shift in tone from Pelosi and House Democrats, who last week were full speed ahead on drafting legislation with a heavy focus on infrastructure.
The shift also came amid a record-setting number of Americans – 6.6 million – who filed for unemployment last week.
“Does that not just take your breath away?” Pelosi told reporters during a press call last week.
Republican leaders initially seemed to downplay the necessity of a fourth bill and said they instead wanted to “wait and see” how the $2 trillion relief package effects the economy and American workers.
“She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” McConnell said in an interview with The Washington Post last week.
He called Pelosi’s talk about the need for a fourth round of virus-related legislation “premature.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., echoed McConnell, telling reporters that while Pelosi “is trying to talk about a fourth bill, I don't think that is appropriate at this time.”
Asked about the break between the two congressional leaders, Mnuchin told reporters he was in touch with both of them.
“I've spoken to the leader. I've spoken to the speaker. I've spoken to the president constantly. When the president is ready and thinks we should do the next stage, we're ready,” he said.
McConnell, late last week, seemed to move closer towards Pelosi's position on the need for a fourth package.
"[It] should be more a targeted response to what we got wrong and what we didn’t do enough for — and at the top of the list there would have to be the health care part of it," he said in an interview Friday with the Associated Press.
Not only is Pelosi staying the course on the need for a fourth package, she also announced on Thursday the creation of a bipartisan House select committee to oversee the $2 trillion federal response to the coronavirus crisis.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip, will lead the bipartisan panel, which will be authorized to “examine all aspects of the federal response to the Coronavirus and ensure the taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent.”
"The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse; it will protect against price-gauging, profiteering and political favoritism," she told reporters on a press call last week. "We need transparency and accountability."
The committee will also try to ensure the U.S. response to the outbreak is “based on the best possible science” and the advice of leading health experts, Pelosi said.
The committee will also have subpoena power.
Clyburn, whom Pelosi has tapped to oversee the watchdog committee, said the committee will be “forward-looking” and will not focus on the Trump administration’s initial response to the coronavirus crisis.
“My understanding is that this committee will be forward-looking,” the No. 3 House Democrat told CNN’s "State of the Union" on Sunday.
Some Republicans have called the creation of Pelosi’s oversight committee unnecessary.
“I don’t really think that’s necessary,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told reporters Monday at the Capitol building. Capito was in town to oversee a brief Senate pro forma session.
“We have oversight committees,” Capito said. “I don’t think it’s necessary, I think we’ve got a lot of safeguards in place, and oversight.”
President Trump also blasted the new oversight committee.
"I want to remind everyone here in our nation's capital, especially in Congress, that this is not the time for politics, endless partisan investigations,” Trump said during a White House briefing last week. “Here we go again. They've already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years."
"It's witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt," Trump continued. "And in the end it's people doing the witch hunt who are losing --- and they've been losing by a lot. And it's not any time for witch hunts."