Following a months-long battle over the next COVID-19 relief package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are finally coming to an agreement, but to the disappointment of some Americans who say it’s simply not enough. The $908 billion bipartisan proposal was presented by lawmakers in the House and Senate on Tuesday and includes an additional $300 a week in unemployment payments and $288 billion in Paycheck Protection Program small business loans. It will also include funding for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as for education and rental assistance.
But the latest proposal is significantly smaller than the $2.2 trillion bill Democrats originally pushed earlier this year, which Pelosi has been relentlessly pushing forward within congress. That’s because it will not include the reinstatement of an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits or a second round of stimulus payments that would go directly to Americans who desperately need the financial assistance as we approach 10 months of the pandemic. The earlier proposal has since been trimmed down following President-elect Joe Biden’s election win and the possibility of a vaccine, Pelosi said Thursday.
When asked about her decision to compromise with McConnell on the bill during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Pelosi called Biden’s win and the vaccine a “game-changer.” She added that the smaller relief package is “OK now because we have a new president, a president who recognizes we need to depend on science.” Pelosi further stated that while the current bill isn’t “everything we want,” Democrats could push a more expansive relief package following Biden’s inauguration in January.
Still, the House Speaker is receiving criticism from both the left and the right, as working people across the country rely on financial assistance from the federal government in the face of job loss, and housing and food insecurity.
Conservatives condemned Pelosi for stalling the relief package over the election, claiming that “Democrats see this entire crisis as leverage to play politics,” or that she “plunged millions into poverty in order to win an election.” Of course, conservatives are not making these arguments in good faith. This line of thinking fails to account for the fact that McConnell’s earlier $500 billion proposed stimulus package would also fall short of providing sufficient relief to working families.
On the other hand, people across the country have been in dire need of further financial assistance for months since the additional unemployment benefits included in the original $2.2 trillion CARES Act expired at the end of July. Those on the left of the political spectrum — including progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — say the current stimulus package under consideration still doesn’t go far enough. “COVID relief needs to directly help everyday people,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “People need stimulus checks” and universal income. The congresswoman added in another tweet, “Maybe if everyone in the US incorporated as an LLC, Mitch McConnell would actually do something for them.”
When Congress signed off on a one-time $1,200 check for all Americans at the beginning of the pandemic, it also provided billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy. As the American Prospect noted at the time, the CARES Act “treated the wealthy and connected to a permanent change in fortune, and provided everyone else with a temporary benefit.” It should come as no surprise that while millions of people faced unemployment as a result of the pandemic, billionaires gained almost $1 trillion in wealth.
As Congress’s holiday break approaches, Americans face further financial uncertainty, making an expansive relief package all the more urgent. Working people can't wait for Biden's inauguration to receive the assistance they deserve, and the GOP is running out the clock.