Pelosi: Dems Will Press Ahead on Covid Relief, With or Without GOP
Democrats are pressing ahead with preparations to pass a coronavirus relief plan without Republican support. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that the House will pass a budget resolution next week, a key step in the reconciliation process that would allow Democrats to approve another aid package without GOP votes.
Once passed by the House, the budget measure would head to the Senate, where it would likely be amended and returned to the House. Pelosi told reporters she expects that “by the end of the week we’ll be finished with the budget resolution.”
Rushing for relief or looking for leverage? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday that his chamber would begin considering a Covid relief bill as early as next week. “Our preference is to make this important work bipartisan, to include input, ideas and revisions from our Republican colleagues,” Schumer said. “But if our Republican colleagues decide to oppose this urgent and necessary legislation, we will have to move forward without them.”
Pelosi similarly said she hopes that President Joe Biden can win Republican support for another relief package. “We have to act. And that is why I said we want it to be bipartisan, always, but we can't surrender if they're not going to be doing that,” she told reporters. Pelosi added that the preparations for reconciliation may also drive Republicans to negotiate. “I do think that we have more leverage getting cooperation on the other side if they know we have an alternative,” she said.
White House officials have been aggressively courting a wide range of lawmakers on the legislation, with a deputy press secretary describing the effort as “a full-court press to engage leaders and stakeholders in Washington,” according to Axios. But Biden’s plan has met with stiff resistance from Republicans. While some have expressed support for elements of the proposal, many in the GOP, including party moderates, have questioned the need for another package as big and broad as Biden has put forth.
Republicans warn Dems against going it alone: At the same time, moderates in both parties are still holding out hope for a bipartisan deal, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) urging Biden to continue efforts to reach an agreement and turn to reconciliation as a last resort. Some in the GOP have reportedly grown frustrated that Democrats are forging ahead with plans for the reconciliation process — and are warning that it could be a mistake.
“Republicans believe the Democratic leadership may come to regret their one-party approach,” Punchbowl News reported Thursday. “They think infighting between moderate and progressive Democrats could, in the end, prove too much, giving the GOP an opportunity to jump in and shape the final agreement.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is part of a bipartisan group of senators engaged in discussions with the White House, told NPR Thursday that going it alone on Covid relief "would set the tone for the administration that would be really problematic for the country and frankly, bad for the Biden administration." Portman announced this week that he will not seek reelection in 2022, citing “partisan gridlock” as a reason.
White House says it’s not looking to split Covid relief package: White House officials pushed back Thursday on a Politico report that the Biden administration was looking at splitting the Covid relief package. Such a split, according to the report, would involve passing a narrower, bipartisan bill in the $600 billion to $800 billion range and then adding everything that was left out of the first bill to a planned follow-on effort that would be passed via reconciliation, meaning that a simple majority would suffice and Republican votes might not be needed.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted and told reporters at her daily briefing that the White House was not looking at that two-step plan. “The needs of the American people are urgent from putting food on the table, to getting vaccines out the door to reopening schools,” she said in her tweet. “Those aren’t partisan issues. We are engaging with a range of voices—that’s democracy in action—we aren’t looking to split a package in two.”
White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield and Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council and one of the administration officials involved in Covid aid negotiations with Congress, both also tweeted to deny the report. “The needs of the American people aren’t partial; we can’t do this piecemeal,” Deese said.
Covid Delivers Worst Year for Economy Since 1946
The U.S. economy was 3.5% smaller at the end of December than it was at the start of the year, the Commerce Department announced Thursday, making 2020 the worst year for growth since 1946, when the nation was demobilizing after World War II.
Economic growth slowed significantly in the last three months of the year as Covid-19 surged, with GDP growth registering just 1% in the fourth quarter, or 4% on an annualized basis. The lackluster results followed record growth of 7.5% in the third quarter (33.4% on an annualized basis) and a record decline of 9.5% in the second quarter (31.4% on an annualized basis).
The slowdown was driven in large part by the resurgent coronavirus, which further damaged bars, restaurants and other face-to-face businesses. In addition, billions in federal aid expired in the fall, removing a tailwind that helped growth in the summer. The swoon “wasn’t just Covid — it was the lack of fiscal support,” Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies, told The Washington Post.
Mixed messages: The Biden administration cited the report as proof that the economy needs more support. “The message is clear,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said in a statement. “Without swift action, we risk a continued economic crisis that will make it harder for Americans to return to work and get on back their feet. The cost of inaction is too high.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made the same point. “Given these economic numbers, the need to act big and bold is urgent,” he said. “Given the fact that the GDP sunk by 3.5 percent last year, we need recovery and rescue quickly.”
But some analysts aren’t so sure. “I don’t think this is going to convince anybody one way or the other,” Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo, told Bloomberg. “People who are skeptical about more fiscal relief are going to say ‘well, the economy’s growing.’ People who want to see more fiscal relief will say ‘yeah, but it only grew 4% at an annualized rate.’ It’s not a game changer.”
Jobless claims top 1 million: New jobless claims provided another piece of evidence on the state of the economy Thursday, coming in a bit lower than expected, with 847,000 people filing for unemployment aid last week at the state level, the Labor Department announced Thursday. Another 427,000 applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, bringing the total to nearly 1.3 million. Despite beating expectations – analysts expected closer to 875,000 claims at the state level – the numbers show that the job market is still struggling.
Quote of the Day
“As deeply distressing as this pandemic and economic fallout have been, it is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy better than it was before — making it work for everyone by increasing the availability of fulfilling jobs and leaving no one vulnerable to falling through the cracks.”
– Cecilia Rouse, President Biden’s nominee to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers, at her confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee.
Number of the Day: $15.6 Billion
Franchises of large fast-food, hotel, auto dealerships and other big businesses got $15.6 billion in emergency Paycheck Protection Program loans meant for small businesses, according to government data obtained by The Washington Post and other news organizations following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Post’s Jonathan O'Connell and Andrew Van Dam report:
“Among fast-food chains, 4,278 Subways, 2,445 Dunkin’s and 2,217 McDonald’s received funds. Among auto dealerships, 1,478 General Motors locations and 1,115 Ford locations received funds, according to the data… . In total, SBA identified 75,746 franchise businesses that received loans, amounting to 1.5 percent of the 5.2 million loans issued between April 3 and Aug. 8. The $15.6 billion they received was 3 percent of the more than $522 billion loaned during that period. … The SBA data on franchise affiliations, which the agency had not previously released, shows loans to franchises saved almost 2.5 million jobs, although experts say the SBA’s estimates of PPP job retention are badly inflated
Biden Signs Executive Order Reopening Obamacare Exchanges
Saying he intended to "undo the damage Trump has done," President Joe Biden signed two executive orders Thursday that aim to improve access to health care.
In one executive order, Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services to reopen the Healthcare.gov insurance marketplace for 90 days, starting on February 15. The federal marketplace serves 36 states, and the 14 states that operate their own systems are likely to follow suit, a White House official said, creating a national effort to boost enrollment amid the ongoing pandemic. The federal marketplace is usually open just once a year, and typically closes on December 15.
While about 15 million uninsured people could qualify for subsidized coverage — with 4 million of those eligible for coverage at no cost — experts expect to see more modest numbers. Much will depend on outreach efforts, which were sharply reduced over the last four years under President Trump. The White House says it will operate a “robust” promotional program, including advertising and partnerships with community organizations, but as Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times reported Thursday, the administration may find itself “hamstrung by the lack of pre-existing networks of outreach workers.”
Biden also ordered federal agencies to review rules that may limit access to health care, and to consider taking steps to eliminate those rules. Specifically, the executive order cites policies that may weaken protections for those with preexisting conditions; rule changes such as work requirements that may restrict access to Medicaid; and policies that undermine or make it harder to sign up for health care through the federal marketplaces or Medicaid.
“There is nothing new that we're doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president,” Biden said in the Oval Office.
A second executive order is directed at women’s reproductive health. It ends limits on funding for international nongovernmental organizations that support abortions, and rolls back changes made during the Trump administration that denied federal funds to organizations that provide or refer for abortions in the U.S.