House Democrats surprise move to vote this week on a second coronavirus bill has intensified the pressure on Senate Republicans to follow suit, even as both chambers head into a week-long recess when the global pandemic is expected to worsen.
Leaders of both parties are scrambling to address the economic fallout of the crisis as new cases have popped up around the country, sparking widespread public anxiety and economic upheaval. But House Democrats are charging ahead more aggressively, scheduling a vote Thursday on a sweeping package designed to temper the financial toll on coronavirus victims.
Shortly after that vote, House lawmakers will jump on planes and trains and decamp to their districts for what is scheduled to be a 10-day break from the Capitol, leaving Senate Republicans with the difficult question of whether to consider the House package, take up one of their own, or punt the issue until after the break.
They damn well had better do it, Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalFederal lawmakers finally have a real plan to fight plastic pollution will they step up to the plate?Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollutionGreenpeace says many plastics are not actually recyclableMORE (D-Calif.) said of the Senate. This is a crisis that the nation is facing and this is just a down payment. Everybody is going to be at risk potentially.
While Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden delivers another devastating blow to SandersElbow bumps, Spock salutes: How Congress is dealing with coronavirusOvernight Health Care Presented by Philip Morris International Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal amid coronavirus threat | Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol | Coronavirus emerges as 2020 flashpointMORE (D-Calif.) and her House Democrats had vowed to move quickly on an economic response to the coronavirus turmoil, the Thursday vote comes even sooner than many in the caucus expected.
The brisk pace at once provides vulnerable Democrats with a positive message to relay to constituents back home while creating an optics problem for Senate Republicans who if they dont tackle the issue themselves will be forced to defend that inaction to home-state voters while the crisis escalates.
Indeed, Pelosis decision to stage the vote this week came after a number of rank-and-file lawmakers had urged an expedited timeline so theyd have ammunition heading home.
The daily news demands that we do something, and nobody wanted to go home without addressing the most significant crisis world-wide crisis in our lifetime, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).
Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightTrump budget chief holds firm on CDC cuts amid virus outbreakDemocratic senators tweet photos of pile of House-passed bills ‘dead on Mitch McConnell’s desk’How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachmentMORE, a Pennsylvania Democrat facing a tough reelection, echoed that message, adding that the optics of a Congress working hard to confront a global emergency are also crucial to the recovery.
I think that Americans will never admit it, but a lot of them look to Congress as a source of confidence, he said. And so continuing to do the business that we were sent here to do is vital not only to do it, but to be seen to be doing it.
Democrats are already poised to pounce if GOP leaders drag their feet.
I think it really does put the pressure on them, said Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickEleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in PhoenixArizona Democrat to get treatment for alcohol dependence after suffering fallHouse holds moment of silence to mark anniversary of 2011 Tucson shootingMORE (D-Ariz.), whose daughter is a physician in Arizona. Were taking this really seriously and were hearing it from our constituents.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, were taking a wait-and-see approach on Wednesday, eager to see exactly what ideas Democrats put forward in their proposal before moving forward with their own plan.
I don’t think any decisions have been made at this point. I think it’s just a function of seeing what [Democrats] pull together, Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneElbow bumps, Spock salutes: How Congress is dealing with coronavirusTrump, GOP seek way forward on coronavirusOvernight Energy: Murkowski fumes over stalled energy bill | White House weighs help for oil, gas industry | Dem presses top Trump official on rollback of safety regulationsMORE (R-S.D.) told reporters. We have no idea what’s in it, or if it’s something the White House, the administration might support.
The Democrats legislation is designed to provide financial help to those most directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including provisions to expand unemployment insurance, extend paid sick leave benefits and ensure that low-income children dont miss meals due to school closures.
It follows on the heels of last weeks $8.3 billion emergency relief package, which concentrated more heavily on the health-care aspects of the virus, which the World Health Organization labeled a pandemic on Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Health Care Presented by Philip Morris International Trump floats payroll tax cut, help for hourly workers over coronavirus | Five lawmakers self-quarantine after possible exposure | CDC urges those over 60 to take precautionsHoyer says Congress will stay at work amid coronavirus for nowThis week: Surveillance, travel ban fights play out amid growing coronavirus concernsMORE (D-Md.) said the Senate is capable of moving swiftly on emergency legislation when it must, and predicted that that would ultimately be the case on an economic relief package.
As soon as we pass something, I think the Senate can pass it pretty quickly, he said. They may amend it and send it back to us, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’ll move on it quickly.
Still, Hoyer also acknowledged that the House is leaving Senate GOP leaders with a short window to act before the break, and suggested the work would be finalized after Congress returns to Washington later in the month.
I don’t know that it’ll be before we leave on recess, he said. These are complicated issues.
Complicating the negotiations, Trump has called on Congress to quickly pass an economic stimulus package that includes a payroll tax cut through the end of the year a non-starter in the eyes of Democrats and even some Republicans.
The president will deliver an address to the nation about coronavirus on Wednesday night, following meetings with health and business executives at the White House and a personal plea to GOP senators on Tuesday.
In search of a bipartisan deal, Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden delivers another devastating blow to SandersOvernight Health Care Presented by Philip Morris International Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal amid coronavirus threat | Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol | Coronavirus emerges as 2020 flashpointTrump, GOP seek way forward on coronavirusMORE, Trumps point person on the economic response, in her Capitol office on Tuesday, and spoke with him again Wednesday morning. As of Wednesday evening, many Democrats were still holding out hope that the sides could reach an agreement before the recess.
Meanwhile, there was a flurry of activity in the House related to the coronavirus.
The epidemic was the focus of the Congressional Black Caucus weekly lunch on Wednesday, while the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus huddled with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon to discuss coronavirus fallout.
Later in the afternoon, House Democrats held an emergency all-member meeting where leaders unveiled details of their response package.
Weve got to do it before we leave. The American people are expecting action from their representatives Its imperative that we take the first step this week, former Black Caucus Chairman G.K.Butterfield (D-N.C.) told The Hill.
The American people will hold us accountable if we dont rescue them. There is not only a health price to pay but there is a political price to pay if we don’t respond. I remember the response to Hurricane Katrina that was the demise of George W Bush.
Jordain Carney contributed.