Speaker sug­gests a ‘he­roes’ fund for front-line work­ers

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Lisa Mas­caro

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says up to $1 tril­lion is needed to shore up state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, a stun­ning bench­mark for the next aid pack­age that’s cer­tain to run into op­po­si­tion.

WASH­ING­TON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thurs­day that state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are seek­ing up to $1 tril­lion for coro­n­avirus costs, a stun­ning bench­mark for the next aid pack­age that’s cer­tain to run into op­po­si­tion from Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

Pelosi, D-Calif., ac­knowl­edged the fed­eral gov­ern­ment may not be able to pro­vide that much. But she said a “he­roes” fund is needed to pre­vent lay­offs as gov­er­nors and may­ors stare down red ink in their bud­gets.

Many ju­ris­dic­tions are fac­ing ris­ing costs from the pan­demic and plum­met­ing rev­enues in the eco­nomic shut­down. The best way Amer­i­cans can sup­port lo­cal nurses, bus driv­ers and other front-line com­mu­nity work­ers, Pelosi said, is to make sure they don’t lose their jobs to bud­get cuts.

“This is some­thing of the high­est pri­or­ity, it hon­ors our he­roes,” Pelosi said.

Nurses, tran­sit bus driv­ers and other work­ers “are risk­ing their lives to save lives, and now they’re go­ing to lose their jobs,” she said.

The $1 tril­lion re­quest comes after Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell shifted his tone sug­gest­ing he is “open” to con­sid­er­ing ad­di­tional funds in the next coro­n­avirus re­lief bill.

But the eye-pop­ping fig­ure would be on top of nearly $3 tril­lion Congress has ap­proved over the past month to sal­vage the econ­omy and con­front the health cri­sis.

Congress is par­tially re­open­ing next week as House com­mit­tees hold sev­eral hear­ings, and the full Se­nate gavels into ses­sion after be­ing shut­tered for more than a month dur­ing the pan­demic.

McCon­nell, R-Ky., said Thurs­day that he’s will­ing to con­sider money for the states, but isn’t about to send fed­eral dol­lars to bail out over­spend­ing.

“We’re not in­ter­ested in bor­row­ing money from fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to send down to states to help them with bad de­ci­sions they made in the past un­re­lated to the coro­n­avirus epi­demic,” he said.

McCon­nell in­sists any fresh fund­ing must be tied to li­a­bil­ity re­forms to pre­vent what he calls “an epi­demic of law­suits” against doc­tors, hos­pi­tals and busi­nesses re­open­ing in the pan­demic.

In out­lin­ing the next pack­age, Pelosi said the new fund­ing for state, county and city gov­ern­ments would be spread out over sev­eral years.

Pelosi ac­knowl­edged Congress may not be able to pro­vide the full amount be­ing sought. Gov­er­nors have asked for $500 bil­lion, and county and city gov­ern­ments are re­quest­ing a sim­i­lar amount, she said.

“We’re not go­ing to be able to cover all of it,” Pelosi said.

But to the ex­tent the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can pro­vide funds to pre­vent wide­spread lay­offs, she said, “that’s our goal.”

Con­gres­sional lead­ers staked out pri­or­i­ties for the fifth round of aid even as key sen­a­tors joined their House col­leagues in sound­ing alarms over the health risks of re­open­ing the U.S. Capi­tol.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, DCalif., urged McCon­nell to re­con­sider, say­ing there is “no way” to bring 100 sen­a­tors plus staff to the Capi­tol com­plex with­out “in­creased risk.”

Fe­in­stein said, “This is the wrong ex­am­ple for the coun­try.”

The Wash­ing­ton re­gion re­mains a virus hot spot, health of­fi­cials say.

Fe­in­stein noted a num­ber of Capi­tol staff and po­lice of­fi­cers test­ing pos­i­tive for the virus. Stay-home or­ders are in place through mid-May for the District of Columbia.

The House can­celed its sched­uled re­turn after law­mak­ers re­volted and the Capi­tol physi­cian warned of the health risks for the 430 law­mak­ers and their staff.

McCon­nell’s of­fice would not say if he con­sulted with the Capi­tol physi­cian on the de­ci­sion to re­sume Se­nate op­er­a­tions. He de­clined to an­swer when asked about it Thurs­day.

“I think we can con­duct our busi­ness safely,” he said.

McCon­nell faced a storm of crit­i­cism from the na­tion’s gov­er­nors after pan­ning Democrats’ pro­posal for more than $500 bil­lion to help cash-strapped lo­cal gov­ern­ments cover the sud­den ex­tra costs of po­lice, fire and other front-line work­ers in the cri­sis. Last week, he sug­gested states should be al­lowed to go bank­rupt.

House and Se­nate lead­ers are strain­ing to re­spond to the pan­demic cri­sis as they face the re­al­ity that Congress may not be able to fully re­sume for some time.

Sen­a­tors are re­turn­ing Mon­day to an agenda of con­firm­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nees for ju­di­cial and ex­ec­u­tive branch po­si­tions.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Se­nate in­stead should fo­cus on con­gres­sional over­sight of the fed­eral coro­n­avirus re­sponse.

Democrats pro­posed a new ef­fort to fed­er­al­ize the na­tion’s med­i­cal sup­ply chain.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about ad­di­tional virus aid Thurs­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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