Clark: Spending Bills May Offer Vehicle for COVID Relief
Dems See Opportunity in "Must-Pass" Legislation
9/3/20 4:54 PM
SEPT. 3, 2020.....With states like Massachusetts still waiting for additional federal financial help, U.S Rep. Katherine Clark said Thursday that Democrats could look to use the federal budget process to force more spending if they can't reach a deal with Senate Republicans and the White House on a new stimulus bill.
Clark, a top-ranking Democrat in the House, said Democrats will "continue to push" for the Senate to take up a version of the more than $3 trillion Heroes Act, but said the federal budget could be a vehicle for COVID-19 relief spending if that fails.
"We know that the American people are depending on the federal government and Congress for the help that they need and they can't do it alone. And state and local government can't do it alone," Clark said.
Clark, the vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus, took part in a conversation about the state of Congress on Thursday sponsored by the Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and moderated by Kimberly Atkins, a senior opinion writer at the Boston Globe.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed doubts about reaching a deal on a new COVID-19 relief package when Congress returns from recess, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has continued to talk about the need for additional stimulus to help the economy.
While Democratic leaders have offered to reduce the size of the package to $2.2 trillion, Republicans were seeking closer to $1 trillion in spending, and now are reportedly eyeing an even smaller $500 billion bill.
"I am very confident in the Democrats compromising to be able to get relief," Clark said. "The problem is, to be frank about it, there is nobody coming to the negotiating table with us."
The White House in recent weeks has said Democrats have rejected their stimulus offers.
Massachusetts lawmakers still have not approved a budget for the fiscal year that began in July, and could be looking at a $6 billion revenue gap. The nation's governors have requested $500 billion to stabilize state finances, and Gov. Charlie Baker has said that it's imperative for Congress to do something to help.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that initial claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Aug. 29 fell by 130,000 to a seasonally adjusted 881,000, which some officials pointed to as a sign that the economy was slowly recovering. The department, however, reported that initial claims were up 460 to 18,054 in Massachusetts, where the unemployment rate has been among the highest in the country.
The federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, and Clark described the federal budget as "the one guarantee that we know the Senate will take up."
"That is a must-pass piece of legislation, so I think over the next few weeks we're going to see the intersection of that bill and how we get relief to our communities, our hospitals, how we invest in testing," Clark said. The Melrose Democrat had also championed additional spending on day care and school safety for teachers and students returning to the classroom, and on food security for families impacted by the pandemic.
"They have to be passed," Clark said of the appropriations bills. "And they may very well turn into the vehicle for relief."
Clark also acknowledged that pandemic spending has pushed federal debt to levels not seen since the end of World War II, which was the last time debt exceeded gross domestic product.
"It is not the time for us to pull back. It's the time for us to make these key investments and then we have to relook at tax policy," she said.
In addition to talk of legislative activity, or inactivity, Clark touched on the elections in November, her interest in protecting the United State Postal Service and mail-in voting, and her own political future.
On the heels of U.S. Sen. Edward Markey's victory over U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III in a hard fought primary on Tuesday, Atkins asked Clark whether she might be interested in running for Senate if Joe Biden wins the White House and taps U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for his Cabinet.
"I would say no, but I also gave what I thought was a great argument for why I would never run for Congress ... ," joked Clark, who left the state Senate when she was elected to the U.S House. "My focus now is making sure we have those choices."
Clark expressed confidence in Democrats being able to hold on to their majority in the House and potentially take control of Senate, but said she viewed President Donald Trump warily.
Asked her biggest worry about the presidential election, Clark said, "That the president will cheat. I just worry the lengths he will go."
Trump has similarly complained that the rush to expand voting-by-mail is ripe for election fraud by Democrats, but Clark said Massachusetts showed this week that it can be done and lead to strong participation in elections.
Close to 1.6 million voters, or over 30 percent of registered voters, participated in this year's primaries, according to preliminary figures, which would eclipse the previous high-water mark in 1990 for raw votes cast.
While mail-in voting was largely free from widespread problems, three towns are still counting ballots that they failed to tally on election night to help decide the Democratic primary in the Fourth Congressional District.
Some Democrats worry that Trump and the United States Postal Service are working to undermine mail-in voting, but Clark said protection of the USPS is about more than just protecting the integrity of elections. She said she has received calls from veterans in her district who have seen their prescriptions delayed by a week because of slowed down delivery.
"We will continue to push on every front," Clark said.
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