Floor Speech on Emergency Coronavirus Relief & Omnibus Agreement
Dec 21, 2020
Contact: Speaker’s Press Office,
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of the bipartisan agreement on the emergency coronavirus relief and omnibus package. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
I associate myself with your comments and that of our Chaplain, Father Conroy, that it is appropriate to start today with a prayer, every day, but especially a day when we are seeing over 300,000, and the number getting higher, of Americans who are dying from the coronavirus.
We have hope because there is a vaccine. We have hope because we have a president who recognizes science and, again, the need for us to distribute the vaccine in the most equitable and fair and free way. By that president, I mean the one who will take office one month from now, Joe Biden.
I do want to speak to the bill that will be on the Floor shortly. It is a good bipartisan bill. It does – is different from bills that have been proposed on the Senate side by the Republican Leader. It does things that his bill never did and that is, it addresses the food needs of the American people. Maybe 15 million children are food insecure in our country and adults as well. Millions of families on the verge of eviction, and this legislation addresses the rental needs and short-term moratorium.
We can accept the short-term because we'll have a new president during the length of that moratorium to extend it further, if necessary. We also have in the legislation direct payments, which were not in the Republican bill – to America's working families. I would like them to have been bigger, but they are significant and they will be going out soon.
The President may insist on having his name on the check, but make no mistake, those checks are from the American people. The American peoples’ name should be on that check, no individual, because that is the source of the resources for those checks: tax-paying Americans.
In addition to that, the list goes on of some of the very positive things that are on the bill. And, quite frankly, some of them did not – we did not come to agreement until yesterday. Whether we are talking about WRDA, the Water Resources Development Act, a big jobs bill; it had bipartisan support, but some disagreement over language. And, by the time that was resolved, it pushed the bill from coming to the Floor later.
We didn't have, at the start of the day, sick leave. That is in the bill, almost $2 billion for sick leave. It didn't have the EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor people to have that boost, as well as the Child Tax Credit. It did not have the Employment Retention Tax Credit. Bipartisan support, WRDA and on that.
And then, we came to agreement not only on the language, but where that initiative would be placed about. Many of these things need to be precisely written and assembled in order for a bill to come to the Floor, which we anticipate will be not too – pretty soon this morning.
One of the things, though, that's disappointing, because for a long time now our House Democrats and Senate have been saying we want to crush the virus, put money in the pockets of the American people and, per the title of our bill before, honor our heroes: our state and local workers who are on the front line. When we talk about those on the front line, our heroes, necessary in meeting and crushing this virus, we are talking about health care workers in cities, counties and states. We are talking about first responders, police and fire, someone first on the scene to help someone with the coronavirus. We are talking about our teachers, our teachers, our teachers, the custodians of our children for a large part of the day. We are talking about our transportation, sanitation, food workers, those who make our lives possible.
I think it would be interesting to point out that as enthusiastic as we are about the PPP provisions in this bill, and we all support them in a bipartisan way, it's important to note that small businesses – I always say there is nothing more optimistic than starting a small business, maybe getting married – but the optimism, the hope, the dream that people have is completely, shall we say, darkened by this assault of this virus.
And that's why we had to start by crushing the virus. We didn't do it. We couldn't pass legislation until now because the Administration simply did not believe in testing, tracing, treatment, wearing masks, sanitation, separation and the rest – scientific approach. It becomes clear to us, now, that they believed in herd immunity, quackery, springing right from the Oval Office, and not denied sufficiently by some of the CDC and the rest.
So, now, we have a vaccine and that gives us hope. A vaccine that is – springs from science. People say around here sometimes, ‘I'm faith-oriented, so I don't believe in science.’ And I said, ‘Well, you can do both.’ Science is an answer to our prayers and our prayers have been answered with a vaccine. And in this legislation, we have provision for it to be developed, purchased and distributed in a way, again, that is fair and equitable and free.
What we couldn't get ever, even with the previous legislation just on testing, et cetera, was the adequate language to recognize that this coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on our whole country, more so among people of color. More people have died from the coronavirus, people of color. If you were a child who was Hispanic, you had an eight times more chance of going to the hospital because of the coronavirus than a white child. If you are African American, you had five times chance more of going to the hospital because of the coronavirus.
So, now we have a vaccine that we hope will reach everyone as soon as possible. What I – what I'm heartbroken about about this bill, though, is, while we make an attempt to crush the virus, we don't do it adequately enough in terms of recognizing the toll on people of color. But we will have to do that in the public sentiment of it and in the demands that we make on governors and others who are in charge of the distribution.
But we put money in the pockets of American people. We want to do more. But, nonetheless, we are meeting the deadline, December 26, when Unemployment Insurance, which was vital.
But the third thing, honoring our heroes, as I said earlier, our health care workers, first responders, police and fire, sanitation, transportation, food workers, teachers, teachers, teachers, we just decided that, while they are on the front line, while they are risking their lives to save lives, many of the health care workers and police and fire, et cetera, they’re about to, many of them, to lose their jobs. Many of them have already lost their lives. Many have lost their jobs. So, why is it that this Congress and this White House refuses to recognize the value, the contribution, the sacrifice of our – our, again, heroes, our people on the frontline?
It's interesting, I think, to note that when we passed – we passed a number of bills in a bipartisan way, and we'll pass this one, today. In the course of that, in the CARES Act and follow-up on the PPP bill, and this bill now, we are approaching $1 trillion that we are putting out for PPP. If that is what is needed and is spent effectively, that's a worthy expenditure, but almost $1 trillion, well over $750 [billion]. This bill alone over $300 billion. So, we have PPP now, in order for the private sector to function. In order for us to live our lives, we need to have the public sector: public transportation, public schools, public health, the list goes on.
So, it’s not about public/private, it’s about people, people who are doing the jobs. Again, risking their lives to save lives. They lose their life and maybe lose their job. Many have lost their lives. Many more have, of course, lost their jobs. So, we have nearly, approaching, $1 trillion for the PPP, small business, which I support all the way, and $150 billion or $160 billion for state and local government, which enables the private sector to function, which enables us to crush the virus, which enables us to meet the needs of people. 150-60 [billion] versus well over $800 billion already. How could that be right?
Except Republicans insist on saying, ‘We don't want to give money to blue states where the coronavirus is.’ It's in red states, too. It knows no borders and it knows no party, this vicious virus. But, somehow or other, Republicans have said to our heroes, our health care workers, our teachers, our transportation, our police and fire and the rest, sanitation workers – so important – food, food, food – you are not worthy of support because, perhaps, you are in a blue state predominantly, and, therefore, we under-value your contribution to our society, to our economy, and especially now as we try to minister to the needs of people in this coronavirus crisis. Who do you think – these vaccines come into a state, they go from the lab to your arm, magically? No. They have to be received, distributed, administered and done so fairly, equitably and free. Who do you think is going to do those jobs if you don't respect the role of state and local government in all of this? Don't think about it as government. Think about it as people. Think about yourself needing all of that.
So, I would hope that as we see the need for what we have done in this nearly $900 billion legislation that we'll vote on today that everyone understands it's a first step. It's a first step, as President-elect Biden has said. It's a first step, and we will need to do more, more to get more virus assistance to crush the virus, but also more money to buy vaccines. We need to have the Defense Production Act in play to hasten the manufacturing of these vaccines, and we need to be able to, as I say, to get the job done, and that takes people. And people need to be respected. Their work needs to be valued. And – again, and their entities for whom – under whose auspices they work, public hospitals, all the rest.
And education, so important, and yet, many of our teachers have lost their jobs. We need more teachers because we need more space to separate to, again, protect our children. We always said, if you want the economy to open up and you want our schools to open up, you must crush the virus. At least take the precautions so that people are not in jeopardy if they go to work or if they – when they go to school. Schools should be the safest places in America, should be the safest places in America for our children. And they can be if science is respected and if the mask wearing, distancing and the rest – but you need more space, you need better ventilation, as Bobby Scott tells us over and over, and you need more teachers.
So, this is a big mistake. The Republicans said, ‘Well, you can get a small amount.’ Not even approaching in any way the PPP, and again, no resentment there. We support that, but the recognition that that is important should also recognize that the sector of our economy that supports the private sector be recognized. And so, on that score, you come to a situation where, how could it be that we only have $160 billion for state and local, where we have nearly approaching $1 trillion for PPP, not recognizing that the private sector is connected to the public sector?
Now, one more point on that. They said, ‘You can have some money for state and local. We'll decide how it will be distributed, if you do surrender the rights of workers.’ In other words, just in case anybody doesn't know, there are essential workers who are required to go to work. If they don't, because they're concerned about a danger to their health and the health of their families, because the workplace is not safe, they cannot go on Unemployment Insurance. And if they go to work and contract the virus, they have no recourse because that's the way the Republicans wanted. That's the way the Republicans wanted. It’s so anti-worker. And just for good measure, just for good measure, they have thrown in certain aspects of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA, the list goes on, the Section 42 of their heinous liability bill of all of the actions that cannot be taken.
When I asked one of the Republican Senators, where does the ADA – preventing the ADA to honor its response – Americans with Disabilities Act – honor its responsibilities, they said, ‘Why don't I have the Chamber of Commerce call you and tell you?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you not waste my time or the Chamber's time about why the ADA should not be enforced because of the virus?’ This is coronavirus-centric. We said that we could find a compromise on liability, for the time of the virus and in a way that is fair to the – those – those employers who want to protect their workers and to the workers. They decided they would turn it into some massive, long-term, ever-encompassing liability. Just so wrong to work with. That's not what our system is about.
But nonetheless, still thought we could try to find a compromise. We couldn't. They were absolute. ‘Just call the Chamber of Commerce. They'll tell you why they can't meet the needs of their workers.’ But – but – getting back to the money, nearly a trillion PPP, $160 [billion] – and not even giving the states and localities the flexibility to use the funds for both addressing the COVID needs, the health needs but also the revenue lost. Even the Republican governors wanted that flexibility. But they wouldn't give it to us then, and they wouldn't give it to us now for fear that some blue state governor might – city or mayor, county executive might take advantage of that. We've never done enough for localities. That's a pitch we have made. That's what we had in the Heroes Act. But there was no – no market for that on the Republican side of the aisle.
So, when we say it's a first step, let us embrace it. Let us – you know, let us thank God Chuck Schumer was able to dismantle, in part, the Toomey resolution that would tie the hands of a President to meet the needs of the American people and our economy by exercising Section 13(3) of the national reserve – Federal Reserve Board.
So, we got past that, which took a long time. I thought Wednesday night we were finished. This monstrosity reared its head the next morning. Chuck effectively was able to fix it. It's still – it should not even have been initiated, but nonetheless, fix it in a way – excuse me – Leader Schumer, in a way that enabled us to go forward, and that's why it's taken us this long to get here in these last few days.
So, again, I look forward to Nita Lowey bringing the legislation to the Floor as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee. This will be her last bill on the Floor. In fact, it's the last bill for many of us here, but hers as Chair of the Appropriations Committee. She and her staff, Shalanda and Chris, and so many others, all of our chairs did such a remarkable job and their staffs deserve so much credit for all of this. And, again, we will do some good with this legislation, but we must recognize that more needs to be done to crush the virus, to put more money in the pockets of the American people, from the American people to the American people, and, again, to fill in the gap that has been purposefully left to honor our heroes with all that.
As we review policy and legislation and negotiation and all that, let’s always have in our hearts every single one of the people who have died from the coronavirus. It can be stopped. It can be crushed, but that is a decision, it is a decision and decision to recognize where it is hurting people the most.
So, with that, I invite – I look forward to strong bipartisan vote today on this legislation, respecting it for what it does, not judging it for what it does not, but recognizing that more needs to be done. Again, with high praise for all of our chairs and, again, special recognition of Madam Chair Nita Lowey for her last bill on the Floor. I say congratulations to them, all the staff who worked so hard.
But again, it all comes back to families who lost their loved ones, those who became – millions and millions of people who were infected, some more seriously than others. We don't know the after-effects it may have. But we do know that we have hope, we have a vaccine and we have a President coming into office who believes in science and cares about people and recognizes – values the work that our first responders and health care workers, et cetera do for us.
So, Madam Chair, prayerfully, as you began – as our Chaplain began, prayerfully, I close my remarks, assuring for whatever it's worth, there's many that serve in this body and respect the American people have had a death in the family because of so many people who have lost their loved ones, and we have all lost.
With that, prayerfully, I yield back the balance of my time.
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