In March, during the early stages of the pandemic, Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help people across the country. But six months later, coronavirus is still raging, but no more aid has come as White House negotiators and lawmakers bicker over the details — even as the prolonged pandemic has left people desperately in need of assistance. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given the White House 48 hours to reach a coronavirus relief deal before the election.
Attempts to pass a second relief bill have been ongoing for months. In May, Democrats in the House of Representatives even passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill. However, the Republican-controlled Senate sat on the act due to its cost and its inclusion of a second stimulus check. So earlier this month, Democrats passed a smaller $2.2 trillion bill but, just as before, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that it would not receive any support.
Now, Pelosi is telling the Trump administration to get a move on. In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Pelosi said she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin need to reach an agreement within the next 48 hours in order to pass a relief bill before Election Day.
“The 48 [hours] only relates to if we want to get it done before the election, which we do,” Pelosi said. “We’re saying to them, 'We have to freeze the design on some of these things — are we going with it or not and what is the language?' I’m optimistic, because again we’ve been back and forth on all this.”
In addition to imposing a deadline, Pelosi told ABC News that the White House has made significant changes to language around funding of coronavirus testing efforts. She wrote in a tweet, "The Trump administration must negotiate in good faith. They told us they would put a light touch on our most recent proposal for testing and tracing. Instead, they took a chainsaw to the proposal, cutting more than half of our proposal."
Pelosi didn't only voice her concerns to ABC News. She also released a letter to House Democrats on Sunday afternoon where she noted that "instead of recognizing the need for a strategic plan," the White House switched around language including "'shall' to 'may', 'requirement' to 'recommendation', and 'strategic plan' to 'strategy'."
"The White House has removed 55% of the HEROES Act’s language for testing, tracing, and treatment," Pelosi wrote. "Especially disappointing was the elimination of measures to address the virus’s disproportionate and deadly impact on communities of color. The White House does not appreciate the need to direct resources to culturally competent contact tracing."
She also said the White House wanted to create a "slush fund," which, she wrote, "the administration ... 'may' grant or withhold, rather than a prescribed, funded plan to crush the virus. It is important to note the impact in terms of the disparity facing communities of color: a Latino child is eight times more likely to have to go to the hospital because of COVID-19 than a white child, and a Black child is five times more likely. We want all of our children protected."
As the past few months have shown, any talks regarding a coronavirus relief bill will be long and drawn out. It's unlikely that if negotiations last past Tuesday, a bill would be complete in time to be able to be signed into law before Election Day. Whether the White House starts to feel the squeeze, however, remains to be seen.