Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other progressive members of Congress are demanding another round of stimulus checks for all Americans, and Sanders is threatening to oppose compromise legislation if it doesn’t include direct assistance.
The bipartisan proposal currently gaining momentum among both Republicans and Democrats would allocate $908 billion dollars in COVID-19 relief, including funding for unemployed Americans, financial aid to states and localities with massive budget holes and additional funds for business loans.
It notably does not include a second round of the extremely popular $1,200 stimulus payments.
Sanders said he would vote against the current proposal, which was the outcome of negotiations between centrist lawmakers Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), among others, without significant revisions.
“Given the enormous economic desperation facing working families in this country today, I will not be able to support the recently announced Manchin-Romney COVID proposal unless it is significantly improved,” Sanders said in a statement, adding that he could support the bill with serious revisions, including direct payments to Americans.
“At a time when the COVID crisis is the worst that it has ever been in the U.S. with record-breaking levels of hospitalization and death, the Manchin-Romney proposal not only provides no direct payments to working families, it does nothing to address the health care crisis and has totally inadequate financial assistance for the most vulnerable. That is wrong morally and it is wrong economically if we hope to rebuild the economy,” Sanders continued.
Sanders also balked at the “liability shield” provision in the bill, designed to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits — something Republicans have long pushed for. Other progressives, including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) positioned themselves similarly Friday, signaling growing frustration within the left flank of the Democratic Party. They have not said how they would vote on the current proposal.
“The public should be able to see who is holding stimulus checks hostage & demanding immunity for big corporations exposing workers to COVID,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, demanding more transparency in the negotiations.
So far, COVID-19 relief negotiations have been held up at the highest levels of government, between House and Senate Leadership and top White House officials and Cabinet members.
This latest proposal, negotiated between Manchin, Collins, Romney, and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), was seen as a last-ditch effort to get some aid passed and signed into law before the end of the year.
For the first time in months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed optimism about negotiations, suggesting the relief package could be tied to the spending bill Congress must pass by Dec. 11 to avert another government shutdown.
But as it stands, the current proposal is likely to lose support on the flanks of both parties. Already, conservative members of Congress have voiced opposition to the inclusion of nearly $200 billion in state and municipal aid included in the package.
It’s still too early in the negotiations to know whether opposition among progressives and conservatives is enough to tank a deal.
That said, the most liberal members of Congress have a lot to complain about, too. This latest proposal is half the size of a $1.8 trillion bill the Trump administration proposed just two months ago. Democratic leadership turned down that offer saying it did not go far enough.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a close ally of Sanders, was among the few Democrats that spoke out early against Pelosi’s decision to walk away from negotiations in October. This latest bipartisan proposal, he says, is a significantly less desirable outcome.
“It’s worse by almost every metric,” Khanna told HuffPost. “What is the metric that it’s better than?”
“It shows that we should have taken the $1.8 [trillion] ― and I worried about this,” Khanna added. “I said, ‘Let’s take this or after the election it’s going to be far less.’”
House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion relief package, dubbed the Heroes Act, over the summer, which Republicans blocked entirely, claiming the price tag was too high. The pandemic has reached its worst levels this month, which is forcing cities and states to implement even more stringent lockdown orders.
The United States has recorded its highest number of hospitalized patients this week, as well as the most new cases reported in one day. As of Thursday, the United States has recorded 14,139,577 cases of COVID-19 and 276,325 related deaths.