House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy lambasted Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the monthslong coronavirus relief deadlock, accusing the Democratic leader of intentionally blocking a stimulus deal in order to hurt Republicans in the 2020 election.
“The speaker of this House has denied the ability to [get] help to the American public, simply because she wanted to determine something would happen in the election, to harm President Trump and him getting re-elected,” McCarthy told reporters during a Thursday press conference. “But what has happened is American people are hurting. That has got to stop.”
McCarthy slammed Democrats for focusing on issues beyond a stimulus deal and a government funding bill to avoid a shutdown on Dec. 11.
The main bill on the House floor this week is a measure to end a federal ban on marijuana and require courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions. Lawmakers will also take up the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would ban the ownership of big cats like lions and tigers — a bill spurred by the popular Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.”
“Democrats have focused on cats and cannabis, but not on COVID,” McCarthy said. “You’d think after a humiliating defeat in the ballot box this year … that Democrats would get the picture that Americans are demanding some action on these issues.”
The California Republican’s comments came as Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who for months have maintained that at least $2.2 trillion in spending is needed for emergency relief efforts, indicated they were open to a more narrow bill. In a joint statement, the Democratic leaders embraced a bipartisan $908 billion relief deal as the starting point for negotiations — a major concession.
“In the spirit of compromise, we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” they wrote. “Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement.”
The $908 billion framework, unveiled Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators, allocates about $300 billion in funding for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, $240 billion in aid for state and local governments, $180 billion to extend boosted unemployment benefits at $300 per week through March and a temporary moratorium on COVID liability lawsuits to allow states enough time to design their own laws.
It would also funnel $16 billion into vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, put $82 billion into education, and give $45 billion for transportation. The deal notably does not include a second stimulus check.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly rejected the plan on Tuesday and stood by his “highly targeted” $500 billion proposal. He also said that a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown on Dec. 11 and pandemic relief provisions will “all likely come in one package.”
Senate Democrats have twice blocked McConnell’s bill, which focused on providing funding for small businesses, aid for schools and liability protections for businesses, arguing that it did not go far enough in helping workers and businesses still reeling from the crisis.
But McConnell said Thursday that he has seen “hopeful signs” for reaching a deal before the end of the year.
“Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this,” he said on the Senate floor.
Renewed relief talks come at an increasingly perilous time for the nation as it teeters on the brink of another economic downturn. COVID-19 cases are surging — on Wednesday, the U.S. reported its highest number of coronavirus deaths in a single day with 3,157 new fatalities — state and local governments are implementing more restriction measures and new unemployment insurance claims are rising.
At the same time, safety nets set up in the early days of the pandemic with the passage of the March CARES Act have already lapsed or are set to do so at the end of December. About 12 million laid-off workers will be left with no income on Dec. 26 after two key federal jobless aid programs expire, according to one estimate from the Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.
“For months, Speaker Pelosi has done nothing to help Americans who are hurting. For more than 40 times Republicans have brought on the floor COVID relief votes that the Democrats have voted against,” McCarthy said.