House Democrats want infrastructure to be part of a fourth coronavirus bill, but they need Republican support first.
The House and Senate likely won’t return to Capitol Hill until April 20 at the earliest, but that’s not stopping House Democrats from thinking about a fourth coronavirus stimulus package.
One major initiative Democrats are already contemplating is an infrastructure bill, particularly related to coronavirus recovery. A list could include expanding America’s broadband and 5G internet to allow more Americans to work from home; modernizing hospitals and community health care centers; and updating crumbling water pipelines.
“The fourth bill would be about recovery,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters on a Monday press call. “We would like to see in what comes next something that has always been nonpartisan … and that would be an infrastructure piece that takes us into the future.”
Pelosi and two House committee chairs — House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Frank Pallone and House Committee on Education and Labor chair Bobby Scott — laid out a number of priorities they plan to work toward in the coming weeks, including more protective equipment and increased health and safety regulations for doctors and nurses, and other essential workers like grocery store workers and pharmacists. Democrats also continued to push for free coronavirus treatment for everyone, including the uninsured.
“I guarantee you you’re going to get some surprise bills, whoppers,” Scott said, nodding to the high cost of a visit to the emergency room or long-term intensive care. “The average family is going to be bankrupt, even if they have insurance.”
Of course, in order to have a bill go anywhere, Pelosi would need buy-in from the Trump administration before she could get cooperation from the Republican-controlled Senate. Having just passed a historic $2 trillion bill, Republicans right now seem reluctant to spend much more.
“I’m not sure you need a fourth package,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said this weekend on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures.
The three influential House leaders also talked about where they think Democrats and Republicans could agree on another potentially costly stimulus package. Pelosi repeatedly came back to infrastructure, noting that it is one of the priorities Democrats share with President Donald Trump.
“In terms of recovery, that’s probably the most bipartisan path we could take,” Pelosi said. “Infrastructure’s never been a partisan issue, ever. It’s a public health issue, actually: clean air, clean water. In addition to that, it’s an economic issue, it’s a job issue.”
What we know about House Democrats’ priorities so far
Pelosi emphasized to reporters that the House is in the very early phases of gathering ideas for a fourth coronavirus bill. The legislation is yet to be drafted, but the House speaker added she’d like something ready to go when Congress returns next month.
“I do think it is important that as soon as we’re here, we’re ready to pass legislation,” Pelosi said. “I’d not suspect we’d have any bipartisan legislation before we return.”
Here’s what’s on House Democrats’ list of ideas that could show up in an eventual draft:
- OSHA regulations for workers’ safety: For the last three rounds of bills, Democrats have been attempting to beef up regulations for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which currently don’t include a standard to address airborne infectious diseases. Specifically, Democrats want OSHA to adopt an Emergency Temporary Standard to get regulations on the books both for doctors and nurses, and other essential workers like pharmacists and grocery store workers.
“It is absolutely essential that legislation is required,” Pelosi said. “If we fail to act, we will be making the situation even more dangerous.”
- Free coronavirus treatment: House Democrats included this provision in a bill they introduced last week, before the Senate passed the CARES Act. It 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. (Though, as Rep. Katie Porter pointed out to my colleague Emily Stewart, the administration could do this on its own.)
- Increased direct payments to workers: On Monday’s call, Pelosi floated the idea to send out more direct payments to Americans and possibly increase the amount. After the passage of the CARES Act, every American making less than $75,000 annually will receive a one-time $1,200 check from the federal government to spur consumer spending. Depending on how long the coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic crisis in the US last, Pelosi made it clear she’d like to see additional direct payments.
- An infrastructure bill: Pelosi, Pallone, and Scott all talked about provisions they’d like to see if House Democrats pursue an infrastructure bill to help put Americans back to work after the coronavirus outbreak lessens. Although infrastructure talks between Democrats and Trump haven’t gone very far in the past three years — to the point that “Infrastructure Week” has become a running joke in Washington — Democratic leaders seem eager to find common ground on issues like expanding America’s rural broadband and 5G internet capacity; investing money into rebuilding aging hospitals and community health centers; and repairing or rebuilding water infrastructure like aging pipes.
“We need more community health centers in rural areas,” Pallone said, highlighting one of the ways Congress could improve America’s health infrastructure after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
Democrats are in the earliest stages of brainstorming ideas for a next coronavirus package, and it’s too early to tell whether Republicans will get on board. But this gives us an outline of what to expect from Democratic leaders going forward.