Clark Sees Relief Bill as Option in Lame Duck
Melrose Rep Hopes to Become Assistant Speaker Wednesday
11/17/20 3:34 PM
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 17, 2020.....With President-elect Joe Biden calling on Congress to push through its differences and deliver an immediate COVID-19 relief package, House Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, said it's not just the size of the stimulus bill that matters, but also where the money gets spent.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill said Tuesday that they believe there's path forward to delivering a COVID-19 relief bill before the holidays during the lame duck session, but Senate Republicans continue to express reservations about a major spending bill. It's also unclear how a bill would be received by President Donald Trump, who has said Biden "won" the election but won't concede and continues to assert a "rigged" election.
Clark specifically said that state and local governments need financial support to avoid cutting back on services, and cities like Revere need help stocking food pantries and meeting the demand for shelter that is increasing as the second surge of the coronavirus rips through states like Massachusetts.
"We understand what is at stake for the American people, but it cannot just be a relief package for relief's sake. We cannot leave out key territories, state and local government. We have to make sure this is a package that will deliver the aid where we need it," Clark said.
Another round of federal relief would be welcome news on Beacon Hill where the Legislature is working through its budget process for fiscal 2021, and trying to put together a budget balanced on federal funding from an earlier federal stimulus package and the state's own reserves.
State leaders have said that if Congress does come through with additional support they would likely pull back on plans to spend about $1.5 billion from the state's $3.5 billion "rainy day" fund.
Clark spoke from Washington on Tuesday alongside Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat and chair of the Democratic Caucus, after her last conference call with House Democrats as vice chair of the caucus.
Already the second highest ranking woman in the Democratic caucus behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Melrose Democrat is running for assistant speaker in the new Congress, which would make her the fourth highest ranking member of House leadership. Clark has competition for the job from Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, who chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. The election will be held on Wednesday.
Biden on Monday said Congress "should come together and pass a COVID relief package like the HEROES Act that the House passed six months ago." "Once we shut down the virus and deliver economic meat to workers and businesses, then we can start to build back better than before," Biden said.
The HEROES Act that passed the House in May was a massive $3.4 trillion proposal that got scaled back to $2.2 trillion in the most recent version that cleared the House in October. Senate Republicans have countered with a $500 billion plan, but Clark said the negotiations are about more than the bottom line.
"We're not haggling over the price of a used car," Clark said, adding, "It matters how this money is spent and that this relief will get to the American people."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the election expressed interest in reviving talks over a new COVID-19 relief bill, but more recently has said, "I don't think the current situation demands a multi-trillion-dollar package," according to reports.
Jeffries said $2.2 trillion remains the public position of the House, but that Democrats are "open to finding common ground."
"We remain committed to trying to get something over the finish line in terms of a COVID relief package that does three things: crush the virus; provide direct relief to every day Americans who are struggling and revive the economy," Jeffries said. "It's our hope that we can reach that agreement over the next few weeks. That is our intention."
Jeffries said he believed that Speaker Pelosi had spoken to McConnell about moving forward toward a compromise, but said questions about what was discussed or movement of the two sides toward one another were best put to Pelosi.
"There is a feeling that there's a pathway to getting something done. We'll need Senate Republican partnership to do it," Jeffries said.
Clark, who served in state Legislature before being elected to Congress in a 2013 special election, won her fourth full-term earlier this month when she defeated Republican Caroline Colarusso with 74 percent of the vote.
She and Jeffries both said they were looking forward to having a partner in Biden the White House in 64 days.
"One of the most heartening things about this is it's a return to truth and science," Clark said.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is helping to lead Biden's coronavirus task force, spoke to House Democratic caucus on Monday about the pandemic, and Clark said the numbers "are not good." Murthy is a former surgeon general under President Obama who studied and taught at Harvard University and practiced at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"With President-elect Biden and the House Democratic caucus we know we will have the tools and the powerful ally in the White House to be able to reduce these numbers, and this will be an end to an administration defined by chaos, misinformation, and a pursuit of power that is above all else."
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