With some federal programs set to expire this month and a complex series of efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines now kicking off, it is critical that Congress agree to and pass another relief package, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark said Monday.
“It is mind-boggling that we are here in mid-December still discussing if we are going to do a package,” Clark, a Melrose Democrat who was elected assistant speaker last month, said at a New England Council webinar.
Clark spoke to the business group as the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines were arriving in Massachusetts, and with a bipartisan group of lawmakers reportedly ready to present a plan that involved splitting a stimulus package into two pieces.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark participated in a New England Council webinar Monday where said it was “mind-boggling” that Congress had not yet passed a federal relief package.
The proposal involves breaking out a $160 billion bill with state and local government aid and corporate liability protections from a $748 billion portion with unemployment benefits, small business relief and money for education and vaccine distribution, Roll Call reported.
“This bifurcation does have the potential of leaving state and local governments behind, and I simply don’t see how we do that, so I think that we have to continue to work on passing what we can,” Clark said.
Clark said she has “not given up on state and local government” and hopes “that we can get the package in the totality.”
New England Council President and CEO James Brett noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been resistant to the idea of additional money for state and local governments and that the liability language has also been a sticking point.
With Republicans in control of the Senate and Democrats holding the House majority, Brett asked Clark if she and her colleagues would take the narrower $748 billion bill as a starting point and return to the other issues in January, when the new Congress is seated and the Biden-Harris administration is in the White House.
“Well, we are not leaving until we have real relief,” Clark said. “I’d like it to include state and local government, but we’re not going to leave that money on the table because that is lives. It is that stark. That is how people are going to be able to survive, literally and financially. This is a series of bad choices, but we just simply cannot leave without extending these programs, extending the PPP program, putting money into vaccine distribution. I hope we can get both.”
She said a package now would serve as “a bridge to a new administration, and maybe a new majority leader in the Senate.”
A pair of runoff races in Georgia, both involving Democratic challengers vying to unseat GOP incumbents, will determine if Republicans maintain their Senate majority in the new year.
“We won’t know until January 5th, but what we do know is the American people cannot afford for Mitch McConnell to continue to hit that pause button,” Clark said. “They are literally dying waiting for us to act.”
She said negotiations have “come down to a series of impossible decisions about who are we going to leave behind in order to get any relief to the American people,” knocking Republicans who she said “keep moving the goalposts.”
Clark called it “undeniably exciting” to see the rollout of vaccine doses begin this week, acknowledging there is still a long way to go before the population is effectively immunized against COVID-19.
“We have to provide the financial assistance to state and local governments to support the equitable distribution of a vaccine that is going to be costly and logistically challenging at a time when cities and states are strapped for cash,” she said.
In his own remarks on Monday, McConnell said that for “literally months, both sides in Congress “have known roughly what the shape of a compromise rescue package could look like,” but said “partisan dynamics and political posturing have prevented us from getting more relief out the door, even in areas where nobody even claims to disagree.”
He urged approval of funds to speed the national vaccination effort.
“This is the support that state and local governments need most urgently. Not unfettered slush funds for non-COVID-related needs that predate the pandemic; but incredibly urgent, targeted money to get citizens vaccinated and finish this fight,” McConnell said.
McConnell also urged action on aid to the unemployed and struggling small businesses.
“Either 100 Senators will be here shaking our heads, slinging blame, and offering excuses about why we still have not been able to make a law … or we will break for the holidays having sent another huge dose of relief out the door for the people who need it,” he said.