As Trump pushes hate, Pelosi pushes relief for a besieged nation
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a recent press conference. She said today that, more than money, the differences between the Dems and the GOP on coronavirus relief involve "values." | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—In a case of being forced to negotiate with themselves, so to speak, the U.S. House’s ruling Democrats moved towards a party-line vote on a revised, smaller—$2.4 trillion—version of the Heroes Act, the economic aid bill for the millions of people the coronavirus pandemic left jobless.

That’s not the end of the story, though. “If we do this bill, and it passes the House as I think it will, that does not mean negotiations are over,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., warned.

Hoyer was more correct than he knew. GOP President Donald Trump’s lead bargainer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, rejected the measure as too large in a Fox Business interview on Oct. 1.

But the revised Heroes Act (HR925) may be the last train leaving the station before the November election. The House tentatively plans to recess for the month, while the GOP-run Senate will be tied up with Trump’s rushed-through nomination of federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

And whether the Senate will agree to the revised Heroes Act is uncertain. Off past history, the answer is “no,” despite the obvious pain the coronavirus-caused depression causes millions of people.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who opposes aid to hurting workers, first deep-sixed the original Heroes Act (HR6800), which the House passed in May. And in mid-September, McConnell grudgingly brought a completely inadequate $500 billion stimulus bill, with $300 weekly checks for workers, to his colleagues. The Senate’s ruling Republicans voted it down, anyway.

Nevertheless, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Mnuchin reopened stimulus talks, while the House Democrats crafted their new version of the Heroes Act.  Key provisions of the slimmed-down Heroes Act include:

  • Restoring the federal weekly $600 checks to jobless workers and also letting those checks top off state jobless benefits, retroactive to Aug. 1 and running through Jan. 31. The program expired on July 31 and millions of workers have since run out of money. GOP President Donald Trump grabbed money for them from disaster relief for $300 weekly checks. Those funds run out Oct. 5.
  • Extending emergency paid family leave, at up to two-thirds of a worker’s regular pay, for those who must deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its health impact on workers and family members. The leave also would apply to all workers, in any firm with “one or more” workers, the measure says.
  • A new round of one-time stimulus checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Thousands of beneficiaries have yet to see the first checks, though.
  • $15 billion to keep the U.S. Postal Service going. Its income collapsed as its money-making first-class mail crashed when the depression hit.
  • $436 billion for state and local governments, less than half of the $940 billion allotted to them in the original House-passed Heroes Act. Those governments are starved for cash. Their revenues collapsed when half the economy shut down and demand for their services, especially jobless benefits and job-hunting services, soared. Hundreds of thousands have already been fired, the State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) says.
  • $225 billion to help schools arm themselves for reopening, including temperature checks for teachers, students and staffers, social distancing measures, and buying sanitizers and PPE. There is no money in it for taxpayer-paid vouchers for parents of private school kids. That pleases teachers and their unions while angering Republicans and lame-duck Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a GOP big giver who hates public school teachers, has tried to divert prior stimulus money to the private schools.
  • Ordering Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to force U.S. factories to shift to making PPE, ventilators, face shields, test kits, and, when available, vaccines, to combat the coronavirus. That’s a key cause, ever since January, of National Nurses United. The revised Heroes Act also includes $75 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing.
  • $57 billion for childcare, discussed at a House Education and Labor Committee Zoom hearing the same day. The same hearing also saw Ai Jen-Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and April Verrett, President of Service Employees Local 2015 in South California, advocate extending Medicaid coverage for home health care workers during the pandemic. That’s in the slimmed-down Heroes Act, too.
  • $25 billion to maintain payrolls in the airline industry. The prior special program for the airlines gave them $50 billion, conditioned on keeping their workers on payrolls through Oct. 1. AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson worked that deal out. The union lobbied hard for its renewal, even as major carriers—notably United and Delta—announced tens of thousands of layoffs.
  • $10 billion for more food aid, such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, and school lunches.
  • Insertion of the so-called Grow Act, which some lawmakers see as a solution for the financially troubled multi-employer pension plans. But the Grow Act’s “conditional benefit modifications” section still lets plan trustees cut current retirees’ pensions, so the Teamsters and other unions oppose it.

Other provisions include, but are not limited to, making it easier to vote by mail and ordering states to provide prepaid return envelopes for ballots, making it easier for federal employees to telework during the pandemic, despite Trump orders they come back to their offices, and to extend the deadline for completing this year’s census and reporting population figures and congressional allotments to each state to at least next April 1.

Trump’s Commerce Department is trying to cut the census off on Oct. 5, raising fears that communities of color will be undercounted and underrepresented. The dispute over the deadline for the count’s end is so bitter that a federal judge hearing the case is threatening to hold the Trump regime in contempt of court unless Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross relents.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR