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L.I. Democratic lawmakers seek stimulus talks with McConnell

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U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice and Rep. Tom Suozzi on Wednesday called on Republican senators to work with the Democratically led House of Representatives to pass another round of economic stimulus, only two days before a $600 additional weekly payment that the unemployed have received in recent months is set to expire.

The two, along with Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Erie, Pa., excoriated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying he is stonewalling a deal to infuse further aid into the American economy, at a time when Covid-19 cases are surging across the South, West and perhaps now the Midwest. 

Coronavirus deaths surpassed 150,000 Tuesday.

Rice, a Democrat from Garden City, and Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, held a virtual news conference with Cartwright to help apply pressure to Republican senators to negotiate an aid package with Democrats. 

On May 15, the House passed its $3 trillion HEROES Act, which would extend unemployment benefits, including the weekly $600 payment. Meanwhile, the Senate on Monday unveiled its $1 trillion HEALS Act, which would reduce the $600 weekly payment to $200. Now the two chambers must agree on a unified bill before it can go to President Trump for his signature.

Rice refuted a Republican position that people would rather stay home than work because of the additional $600 payment. She called the argument “garbage.” Many people are not returning to work because of local shutdowns of the economy, she said, noting a sister who is out of work in California. “She wants to [work], but she can’t,” Rice said.

At press time, the only measure that the two chambers agreed on was a $1,200 stimulus check for Americans who meet certain income requirements. 

Without further stimulus, Rice warned, “there are going to be millions of families across this country who cannot pay their rent.”

She noted gyms and bowling alleys remain shut down in New York.

Without additional aid, Cartwright said, “we could slide into a great depression.”

McConnell, Suozzi said, will only “respond to political pressure,” and he added that pressure must come from Republican governors, mayors and town supervisors. 

Currently, the Republican bill contains no new aid to state and local governments — it would only allow them to use an existing $150 billion funding pool in a more flexible way, giving them the ability to use the money to close their budget gaps, according to The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Democrats are seeking more than $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments in the HEROES Act.

Without more such aid, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned, New York would likely have to cut 20 percent of state aid for police, schools and hospitals, at a time when costs are increasing because of the Covid-19 crisis. A 20 percent cut, local officials have said, would be devastating, potentially resulting in mass layoffs.

Suozzi said aid to state and local governments must be included as part of any additional stimulus package. As far as Democrats are concerned, he said, it’s a “non-negotiable” point.

Suozzi pushed back against an argument that McConnell has made numerous times: that stimulus money unequally benefits so-called “blue states,” or Democratic-majority states. He noted that New York annually pays tens of billions more in federal taxes than it receives back in aid and projects. Meanwhile, McConnell’s home state of Kentucky each year receives tens of billions more than it sends to Washington.

Cartwright said the senate majority leader appears more “interested in protecting corporations” than he does in providing aid to average Americans. And, in fact, the HEALS Act would give companies, universities and hospitals a five-year liability shield against coronavirus-related damages.

The White House, the three Congress members said, is bypassing the Senate to negotiate directly with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin’s recent talks with the speaker.

McConnell has said the HEALS Act is a starting point in what will likely be prolonged negotiations. “The American people need more help,” McConnell has said. “They need it to be comprehensive and carefully tailored, and that is what the Senate majority has assembled … Every bill has to start somewhere, and this is the starting place.”