- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2020

House Democrats on Tuesday went all-in with a new coronavirus spending bill that topped $3 trillion and checked off virtually every box on the party’s liberal wish list, all but guaranteeing it has no chance of ever becoming law.

They unveiled a 1,815-page bill that went beyond spending generously in response to the pandemic to include rewriting laws to their liking in areas ranging from elections to immigration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the hefty price tag, saying low interest rates lessen the pain of borrowing and that Democrats want to use the federal credit card to “bolster” workers and families.

“We must think big for the people now. Because if we don’t it will cost more in lives and livelihood later,” the California Democrat said. “Not acting is the most expensive course.”

Republicans, increasingly wary of the tidal wave of debt from a string of virus relief packages, swiftly denounced the bill, which arrived the same day the Treasury Department reported that the federal government spent close to $1 trillion in April as it racked up a record $738 billion monthly deficit.

Much of that spending was tied to the ongoing pandemic, which has led to more than 81,000 deaths in the U.S. and ravaged the economy, putting more than 33 million Americans out of work.

The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s official budget scorekeeper, projected last month that federal government debt will top 100% of the U.S. gross domestic product at the end of this fiscal year for the first time since World War II.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the House’s offer is “not something designed to deal with reality.

“This is not a time for aspirational legislation — this is a time for practical response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Kentucky Republican said.

House Democrats dubbed the $3 trillion-plus package the “HEROES Act,” which stands for the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.”

It is packed with a litany of Democratic priorities that didn’t make it into the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package Congress passed in March or a recent $500 billion emergency bill to replenish a popular small business loan program.

The new spending included another round of up to $1,200 in direct payments to individual Americans and up to $6,000 per household.

It also would extend the $600 in additional weekly federal unemployment benefits through January. The extra benefit, which currently is set to expire July 31, makes unemployment more lucrative than working for many Americans.

The bill would send an influx of money to shore up state and local governments facing budget crunches due to the economic shutdown. At least $500 billion would be divvied up among states and $375 billion for cities and counties.

Rescuing state and local governments has been a top demand of Democrats in the ongoing talks.

Their proposal includes $200 billion to provide hazard pay for frontline workers, $75 billion for coronavirus testing and contact-tracing efforts, $175 billion for rent and mortgage subsidies, and $25 billion in assistance for the struggling U.S. Post Office.

While the bulk of the spending is tied to the pandemic response, Democrats found room to include items that have long been on the party’s agenda.

The bill expands access to voting by mail by saying states can’t impose additional requirements on otherwise eligible voters to cast an absentee ballot through the mail.

It also requires states to allow at least 15 days of in-person early voting before Election Day this year, requires that absentee ballots be counted if they arrive up to 10 days after Election Day, and says that states that require voter ID to cast a ballot must allow voters to meet the requirement by self-certifying to their own identity.

Democrats say that expanding vote-by-mail options and access to the polls are needed ahead of November to protect public safety amid the pandemic, while Republicans have said a massive expansion on that front is prone to fraud.

House Democrats also took expansive steps toward their immigration goals.

One provision of the new bill would automatically extend permission to remain in the U.S. for both temporary foreign guest workers and some illegal immigrants. Those here under the Obama-era DACA program would get at least another year’s eligibility.

And the bill would boost the number of legal permanent immigrants admitted, pushing back on President Trump’s partial immigration pause with an immigrant surge.

Also tucked into the bill is a two-year suspension of the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, a prized benefit for generally higher-income residents in blue, high-tax states.

Republicans included the cap in their 2017 tax-cut law, and Democrats in states like New York, New Jersey, and California have been pushing to restore the full benefit ever since.

The liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offered praise for the overall bill but called the state and local tax provision “poorly targeted.”

The House plans to vote on the bill on Friday, though some liberal members are pushing for a delay.

Republicans slammed the bill as a partisan election-year exercise.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. McConnell said he was working on legislation to shield the health care industry and businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits when the economy reopens.

He has described liability protections as a “red line” for another coronavirus spending package.

“If we want even an outside shot at the kind of brisk re-hiring that American workers deserve, we have to make sure opportunistic trial lawyers are not lurking on the sidewalk outside every small business in America, waiting to slap them with a lawsuit the instant they turn the lights back on,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Mr. Trump has indicated he’s open to another round of coronavirus relief, but the administration has also said lawmakers should wait to see how the economy responds to the nearly $3 trillion already spent in the past two months with four previous rescue packages.

“With the Federal Reserve and the Congress and the White House, we probably put in over $9 trillion of assistance paid out to roughly 175 million people to try to keep the ship afloat,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

The Treasury Department on Tuesday reported that the federal government spent $980 billion in April but took in just $242 billion, with much of the spending uptick attributed to COVID-19.

The government spent $217 billion on direct payments to individuals and families, $142 billion on state and local governments, $146 billion on increases in Medicare and other health programs, and $46 billion on increases to unemployment benefits and other labor programs, Treasury said.

The House bill did win praise from various groups in line for a payout, including the National Association of Counties.

“This bill is a significant step in addressing the urgent needs of our nation’s county governments as we continue to provide essential services to more than 300 million residents,” said NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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