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Why Nancy Pelosi proposed her own $2.5 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

It’s about giving Democrats more leverage in negotiations with the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers a statement at Speaker’s Balcony at the US Capitol on March 23, 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the Senate is embroiled in contentious negotiations for its third $1.8 trillion coronavirus package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just unveiled a $2.5 trillion bill of her own.

Introducing the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” on Monday afternoon, Pelosi outlined a number of Democratic priorities that are not in the current Republican Senate bill. First and foremost in the bill is a priority shared with Senate Democrats — ensuring federal relief money to corporations goes to their workers, rather than to CEOs or stock buybacks.

“Democrats take responsibility for our workers; we require any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars must protect their workers’ wages and benefits,” Pelosi said at a Monday speech. “Not CEO pay, stock buybacks, or layoffs.”

To be clear, Pelosi’s bill is separate from the main $1.8 trillion Senate package currently being negotiated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republicans, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It’s also unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate or be signed by President Donald Trump.

The bigger picture here is Pelosi signaling to Republicans that if they don’t like what Schumer is proposing, they will still have to deal with her down the line when the House takes up the Senate bill. Pelosi’s bill reads like a mission statement for how Democrats might govern in this crisis if they weren’t constrained by a Republican Senate and president. It calls for coronavirus treatment to be free for patients, further bolstering unemployment insurance, directing $40 billion to states to help stabilize schools and universities, student loan forgiveness, funding for the homeless, and helping boost states’ vote-by-mail capacity.

“Because of the Senate Democrats, progress has been made. We urge the Senate to move closer to the values in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act,” Pelosi said in a statement ahead of her press conference.

We’ve yet to see whether any of these provisions will make it into the final product that Schumer is negotiating with Mnuchin and McConnell. But the speaker of the House just made it clear she is part of the equation.

What’s in Pelosi’s bill

House Democrats released the text of their bill Monday night — over 1,400 pages and with a $2.5 trillion price tag.

Pelosi is echoing a number of key points Senate Democrats are sticking to: If corporations are to receive federal money, Democrats want to make sure there’s oversight attached to it, and that relief is flowing to employees rather than corporate CEOs. And both Schumer and Pelosi have been adamant they want to expand federal money and resources to hospitals and health care workers on the front line of the coronavirus crisis.

But Pelosi’s bill goes further in a number of different directions and contains priorities Senate Democratic leadership isn’t negotiating on right now, including helping states expand vote-by-mail systems. Here are the main points of the House bill:

  • The House bill would require any corporation taking federal relief money to prioritize their workers’ wages and benefits over CEO pay, layoffs, or stock buybacks.
  • The bill would give $500 billion in loans to small businesses. It would further expand unemployment insurance, creating a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week for workers impacted by the coronavirus and eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • For direct payments, the bill would provide each individual $1,500 of government assistance, and up to $7,500 for a family of five. Retired and unemployed Americans would also receive the benefit.
  • It would provide more than $150 billion to hospitals and community health centers for coronavirus treatment and equipment like ventilators, masks, and other protective equipment for health care workers, and calls on President Donald Trump to immediately invoke the Defense Production Act. It also would require the Trump administration to endorse strong Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for health care workers.
  • The bill would eliminate cost-sharing for coronavirus treatment and vaccines for all patients, including those who are uninsured. The cost of coronavirus treatment can range from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands, according to a recent Time report.
  • The bill would put nearly $60 billion into America’s schools and universities; $30 billion would be provided to states to help their school funding, and $10 billion would be directed toward public universities. It would also help student borrowers with debt payments.
  • Finally, the bill would provide $4 billion in Election Administration Grants to states to come up with contingency planning and preparation for their elections, which could expand vote-by-mail and no-excuse absentee voting.

Pelosi’s bill is massive; at least $500 billion more than the Senate bill currently being negotiated. But the unfolding coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic shutdown is a nearly unprecedented crisis, and we still don’t know how much federal money it will take to deal with the economic crisis at hand. While Democrats in the House are certainly hoping some of these priorities make it into the final bill Congress passes and Trump signs, it’s also important to remember Democrats are signaling what their leverage is.

After days of negotiation with Schumer, Mnuchin and the White House don’t necessarily have to turn around and do it all over again with Pelosi, with much steeper demands. These new priorities from the House could also have the effect of speeding up negotiations in the Senate.

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