House Democrats are pushing forward with a massive fifth round of coronavirus relief legislation that could be their most far-reaching effort yet to address the economic fallout of the pandemic — and come with another price tag in the trillions.
While the House is still technically on recess, Democratic leadership and committee chairs have been drafting their legislative laundry lists for the relief package that could rival the cost of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed in March, or exceed it.
“We’re looking at a multitrillion-dollar bill,” one House Democratic aide told Fox News.
While the text of the legislation may not be available until next week, it’s clear the centerpiece of the House response will be funding for state and local governments. Their tax revenues have dried up during the pandemic and governors and mayors have warned they’ll have to cut essential services and public workers, like police and firefighters, if the federal government doesn’t help with their coronavirus expenses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week telegraphed that just the aid alone to hard-hit states and local governments could reach nearly $1 trillion. She framed the legislation as targeted to help health care providers, first responders, postal workers and teachers. “It honors our heroes,” Pelosi said of the effort.
This comes, however, as some GOP leaders are looking to pump the brakes on spending, with prior relief bills already prompting the U.S. Treasury to borrow a record $3 trillion this quarter.
Skeptics of yet another round of historic spending are sure to chafe at the behind-the-scenes lobbying surrounding this bill — as many other types of businesses and workers are trying to cash in, including museums, theaters and performing arts centers.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City (the Met) started an online petition last month asking for $4 billion in relief for America’s cultural institutions and nonprofit museums. The Met has an endowment of $3.6 billion alone.
The effort has a champion in powerful Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who is determined to fight for funding for New York City cultural institutions that have been reeling from prolonged closures.
Nadler penned a letter to House leadership on April 30 with members of the New York congressional delegation, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to implement a sizable bailout of the arts and cultural industry that account for about 4.5 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2017, they cite.
Without the money, the curtain could close on these landmarks permanently, they argue.
“They are hemorrhaging revenue, and we have to help them,” Nadler told WNYC radio this week, “so that…we don’t come out of [this pandemic] without our theaters and museums and our libraries, which is a major factor in the economy, but also a major factor in civilization.”
His arts proposal includes $10.5 billion in relief grants, expanded Small Business Administration loan opportunities, boosting the charitable tax deduction to incentivize giving and granting nonprofits a payroll tax holiday.
Nadler, who has been fighting for arts relief for months, said he’s not worried about the fiscal costs of assisting museums and concert halls because the federal government can borrow money at “practically negative interest rates” and can repay it when the economy recovers.
“I think we do have to give money to private cultural institutions, and I’m not concerned, frankly, about borrowing money by the trillions,” Nadler said.
It’s unclear whether the final bill will contain a Broadway bailout, especially given the blowback for $25 million given to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in an earlier coronavirus relief package.
A Democratic aide said there’s hesitation about assisting the arts “since Democrats took so many lumps [over] the Kennedy Center, even though that was such a small amount of money.” The aide said Democrats want this relief bill drafted specifically for the coronavirus response and even if it’s good policy to aid the cultural institutions reeling from lockdowns, Democrats may be leery of backing a huge effort “that can be easily caricatured.”
Aside from the relief to state and local governments, Democrats are eyeing more direct payments to Americans or expanded unemployment benefits as well as help for small businesses, the U.S. Postal Service, funding elections and more aid for testing and contact tracing. Also in the mix is rent relief, more food security assistance, helping states implement mail-in voting, expanding broadband access, funding for health care and public housing support, according to statements from lawmakers and aides.
Pelosi asked her committee chairs to deliver their plans earlier this week as negotiations continue on what the final bill will be. Leadership wants to bring the full House back early this month to vote on what would be the fifth major coronavirus relief bill.
All four of the previous bills were overwhelmingly bipartisan. But this round of legislation is poised to be more contentious. President Trump wants a payroll tax cut in this round of legislation, but Pelosi has rejected that idea.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is cool to the idea of a “blue state bailout” and said Republicans would only agree to state and local funding if Democrats gave businesses immunity from coronavirus lawsuits, which Pelosi also doesn’t want.
As House Democrats charge ahead with bill passage, McConnell told reporters Tuesday the Senate is taking stock of whether a new big piece of legislation is even needed.
“We think we ought to take a pause here, do a good job of evaluating what we’ve already done,” McConnell said.
Meanwhile, Pelosi is under pressure from her liberal left wing to go bold on this next round of funding to help undocumented immigrants and minority communities who are hardest hit by the virus, oftentimes because they are essential workers.
Ocasio-Cortez has called $2,000 in monthly reoccurring payments to all families, regardless of immigration status, and $1,000 per child. The New York Democrat also wants rent canceled during the pandemic.
“We need to be able to play hardball so that working families can get the meaningful help that they need,” Ocasio-Cortez said about the progressive negotiating strategy.
Liberal demands also include a federal paycheck guarantee program for employers, essential worker protections and expanded health care.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Sally Persons contributed to this report.