As Congress negotiates a sweeping stimulus bill to respond to the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, a nearly 100-member bloc of House progressives is laying down a policy marker for what they want to see in the legislation, from big cash payments for all to broadly expanded sick leave provisions.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reviewed by The Daily Beast, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI), outline a dozen “top priorities” that the group has for the stimulus bill.
At the top of their list is progressives’ benchmark on the issue of direct cash payments to Americans to help them cope with the economic slowdown—one that has broad buy-in from Democrats and Republicans but disagreement on key details.
The progressives are calling for guaranteeing monthly cash payments of up to $2,000 for each adult in the U.S., and up to $1,000 more for families with children, for the next six months—with needier families able to extend for another six months. That proposal is far more generous and expansive than the $1,200 individual tax rebate—and $2,400 family rebate—that Senate Republicans proposed on Thursday for households making less than $150,000.
As Republicans consider targeted relief to the industries hardest-hit by the downturn—particularly travel and hospitality—the progressives say any assistance must be conditioned on companies keeping checks flowing to workers and blocking any money from flowing to executive bonuses or stock buybacks, provisions championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a “litmus test” she released earlier this week.
The caucus also calls on Democratic leadership to consider a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, a moratorium on negative credit score reporting, and implementing debt forgiveness and loan forbearance during the crisis.
As the outbreak disrupts state primaries, the list of priorities also includes implementing “nationwide no-excuse absentee voting” and proposes a $500 million grant for states to establish vote-by-mail programs.
The Progressive Caucus letter comes as Pelosi and House Democratic leadership are under increased pressure from the party’s left flank to consider more progressive proposals than the ones that were in the legislation the speaker negotiated with the White House last week.
In particular, Pelosi has been criticized by progressives for an emphasis on tax credits as a way of getting financial assistance to struggling Americans. In an interview with The Atlantic published Thursday, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), a leading progressive, criticized Pelosi, saying “The fact that the speaker’s talking about refundable tax credits … Who has time to wait to do their taxes and see what they get a year from now?”
The last relief bill’s provision on sick leave was considered by many in the caucus as woefully inadequate; the caucus’ letter notably calls to “reinstate protections for frontline workers including medical staff and domestic workers” and “provide full wage replacement for workers who are unable to work.”
Currently, the Senate is moving quickly to pass what could be a trillion-dollar stimulus bill, with Republicans eager to own this round of legislation after Pelosi was in the driver’s seat on the last. However, any bill that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) comes up with will have to pass in the Democratic House, where progressives make up a significant bloc of the majority and could leave an influential mark on whatever legislation does pass the chamber.