Roll Call: Pressure for ‘targeted’ coronavirus relief bill grows as time dwindles

House lawmakers left Washington on Friday for Thanksgiving recess with no sign of progress on a new coronavirus relief package.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and President-elect Joe Biden were meeting in Wilmington, Del., later Friday to talk about their agenda. Publicly, their position has been that Republicans ought to drop their opposition to a $2 trillion-plus aid bill in the lame-duck session.

But with pressure coming from all sides, even some top Democrats admit a smaller Band-Aid that could tide over lawmakers until after Biden takes office Jan. 20 would be better than nothing.

“I just hope that we can get agreement. It may not be everything that everybody wants but at least if we can get some significant relief to people,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call on Friday. “And then we’re going to be here next year. If we need to do other things, we’ll do other things.”

Democrats had hoped that pandemic aid would be discussed during a meeting Thursday held by staff of top congressional leaders. “That didn’t happen, but hopefully it will,” Pelosi told reporters Friday at a news conference.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to talk Friday with Republican congressional leaders and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about a “targeted” relief bill, Mnuchin told CNBC. “Hopefully the Democrats will work with us and hopefully that will get done,” he said.

The lack of progress toward an aid deal has frustrated lawmakers of both parties, as COVID-19 cases spike across the country and experts predict a hard winter ahead.

Nearly 11.5 million Americans have been infected and nearly 250,000 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New unemployment insurance claims were up last week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and key support programs are set to expire Dec. 31.

‘Dire emergency’
Pressure was mounting on Democratic leaders from party moderates before the elections to make a deal. Now, it seems to be coming from more liberal parts of the country as well.

Philadelphia-area Rep. Dwight Evans sent a letter to Democratic leaders on Wednesday pleading for a “targeted” relief bill that would address immediate economic and medical needs.

“Please know that my constituents are now in a dire emergency — they cannot wait any longer,” Evans wrote, noting the jobless rate in his home city of Philadelphia remains “stubbornly high” at nearly 11 percent, and that as many as 400,000 Pennsylvania residents face the risk of eviction.

While the unemployment rate nationally fell to 6.9 percent in October, there were still 11.1 million jobless workers, or nearly twice the pre-pandemic level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“While undoubtedly, a substantial relief package is needed to address the impacts of the public health crisis in its entirety, I respectfully urge you to immediately pass bipartisan legislation with targeted funding that addresses the dire unemployment, housing, and small business needs of our communities at risk of further financial crisis as they attempt to safely and effectively mitigate the public health crisis,” Evans wrote.

First elected in 2016, Evans represents the most liberal parts of Philadelphia. He’s received more than 90 percent of the vote in each of his three campaigns in Pennsylvania’s 3rd District.

Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday called again on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to negotiate with Democrats on an aid package. But she appeared to hold her ground on wanting robust aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs — a provision many Republicans say is not needed

“There’s just one big obstacle in the way in the Senate and that’s Mitch McConnell,” Pelosi said. “The obstacles have been they do not want to honor our heroes, our state and local workers, our teachers, our teachers, our teachers. …They say they don’t want to do that and now many of those workers are laid off.”

Negotiators, however, may be making better progress on an omnibus spending package for the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Current stopgap funding is set to run dry on Dec. 11. Top appropriators were hoping to come to a bipartisan agreement on spending allocations for the 12 annual spending bills this week.

“I think right now there’s a good faith effort, a bipartisan effort in both houses to come up with a full omnibus appropriations bill that would last for the next fiscal year,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters Friday. “Whether that occurs or not, I can’t predict.”