Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of The Heroes Act

May 15, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 6800, The Heroes Act, urgently-needed legislation to address the unprecedented coronavirus health and economic crisis.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.   Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the distinguished Chair for yielding and thank her for her tremendous leadership. 

My colleagues, a horrible virus has made a vicious attack on the lives and the livelihood of the American people, and indeed on the life of our democracy.  We have, again, a momentous opportunity and, therefore – a great opportunity to defeat the virus and to do so in a way that brings us together and takes us forward to a stronger America. 

Today, the House will consider The Heroes Act, to honor those who are on the front lines.  Our health care workers, our first responders, teachers, sanitation workers, food providers, transit workers and other essential workers.  Many of them have risked their lives to save lives, and now they may lose their jobs.  For many of them, this is just what is happening right now as governors across the country are planning their budgets. 

As the coronavirus takes its vicious toll on the lives and livelihood of the country, it has also taken a toll on the states to deliver services to the people.  Governors are forced to either cut services, increase taxes or both. 

The Congress must honor its responsibility to the American people to lessen the blow of the coronavirus by making the same serious investment of The Heroes Act to our state, local, tribal and territorial governments.  The plan that we are voting on today will make a tremendous difference not only in the budgets in the states, but in the lives of the American people.  The public health, education of our children, the sanitation that is so important in defeating the virus, with the support of so many essential workers. 

Actually, the distinguished gentleman on the other side of the aisle talked about the cost of the bill.  The cost to the states, localities, territories and tribal governments is less than the cost of the Republican tax break, which gave 83 percent of the benefits to the top one percent.  We think this is a major investment in the lives of the American people and in the budgets of our states and localities. 

Setting aside how we got here, we must approach this tragedy with the deepest humanity, Mr. Speaker.  All of our hearts are broken by the 87,000 Americans who have lost their lives, and the nearly 1.5 million who have been infected by the coronavirus.  The number of 36 million or more Americans who have filed for Unemployment Insurance is almost unimaginable. 

This is a moment when our fellow Americans are in deep suffering.  We must have empathy for our heroes, the health care workers, for how exhausted they must be and how stressed they are in doing their jobs.  And, again, they're at risk of losing their jobs in this economy. 

We must also emphasize the pain of families who do not know where their next meal is coming from or how they're going to pay next month's rent.  It is imperative that we address the needs of the American people with clarity as we proceed.  It's always interesting to me, Mr. Speaker, to see how much patience some people have with the pain and suffering of other people.  A tolerance level that is not acceptable in a great country like America, with a sense of community and concern for each other. 

We can all agree that we must open the economy.  For sure.  As quickly as we can.  But we must do so based on science and data.  The key to opening this door is testing, tracing, treating and social distancing.  Overwhelmingly, the scientific community agrees.  The Heroes Act has a strategic plan, something that has been lacking thus far.  A strategic plan with a vision to end this plague.  A strategic vision, a goal, a timetable, milestones, benchmarks put forth by the Energy and Commerce Committee.  Mr. Pallone, thank you.  And that is really important.  You have to have a plan to succeed. 

As families are devastated by the loss of life, this legislation – of putting money in the pockets of the American people, which is also a stimulus for the economy, is essential.  They're suffering so much, in so many ways.  We want to lessen the pain for them. 

As the Federal Reserve Chairman Powell said, ‘Additional fiscal’ – now this is very important because it isn't one of us saying it to each other, the authority of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board – ‘Additional fiscal support could be costly, but it's worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.  The tradeoff is one for our elected representatives,’ he says, ‘who wield powers of taxation and spending.’  As elected officials, he indicated us, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to think big, as he advised, and act now For The People. 

The distinguished gentleman said, ‘Oh, my goodness, we put this bill on the Floor.’  Well, let me just do a little history of the last few months. 

I too am very proud of the fact that we were able to bring four bills to conclusion in a strong, bipartisan way.  First one, on March 4th, testing, testing, testing.  Not really fulfilled, but nonetheless, intended.  Ten days later, on March 14th, masks, masks, masks, masks.  Again, PPE, not fully realized, but nonetheless, intended.  March 28th, the President of the United States signed the CARES Act, the first CARES Act.  And that was a bill that was developed by the Republican Leadership in the Senate.  They put forth their proposal, we responded, acted upon it and came forth with a bipartisan agreement. 

The next bill, the interim PPP bill, was also developed by the Republican Leader in the Senate.  He put forth their proposal, we put forth our suggestions, we negotiated, we came forth with a bipartisan bill.  Don't you take pride in the House of Representatives having the same opportunity and privilege as the Republican Leadership in the Senate for us to put forth legislation in this terrible fight?  

And more than 80 percent of what is in this legislation has already been supported in a bipartisan way.  We've agreed on state and local in other bills.  We've agreed on testing in, at least, two other bills.  We have agreed on supporting hospitals.  We've agreed on Unemployment Insurance.  We've agreed on direct payments.  

So much that is in this legislation has appeared in previous bipartisan legislation.  So, we're not asking people to do something they haven't done before.  But, there are some things that we want to add: the postal system, more for voting – but they did vote for the voting, the vote by mail legislation before – a very strong OSHA regulation that mandates certain conditions, so that our workers will be protected and that our employers will know what the standards are, clearly, that they must honor and, therefore, they're protected as well.

Now, some of the Members say, ‘Let's take a pause.’  Let's take a pause?  Do you think this virus is taking a pause?  Do you think that the rent takes a pause?  Do you think that putting food on the table or the hunger that comes if you can't takes a pause?  This is – the hardship of losing a job doesn't take a pause or tragically losing a loved one.  It doesn't take a pause.

So many lives may have been saved if we had testing and tracing and treatment earlier on.  And, now, that’s a lesson to us that that’s what we must do, so that we can end this.  But we don't end it by pausing in the fight.  This virus is relentless.  It is possibly mutating, changing its nature.  This is a very difficult fight and it gives us a moment that we must admit that the American people are suffering deeply, suffering deeply.

We must have empathy for the heroic health care workers again and again who risk their lives to save lives and, again, are at risk of losing jobs of their own, as I said before.  And we must have empathy for the families who are sick, and parents who are struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table.  And we must have empathy for those who have lost their loved ones.  Can you just imagine losing a loved one so mysteriously, so out of the blue?  And many people cannot even embrace them or say goodbye because of the way the virus is communicated.

We cannot abandon them in this time of need.  To protect lives and livelihoods, Members of Congress, House and Senate, must come together, as we have done responding to the Republicans' bill that they constructed on their own in the Senate, and now we offer back something that contains much of what they offered, a little more because the needs are greater.  

And we must give – we must pass this bill to give the families the relief they need.  These are the American people.  This is our family.  They are suffering.  They need help.  We have the resources and the opportunity to do so.

It's interesting to me, it’s so sad for me as a mother and grandmother of children who are younger and college age, that this is the time that they would have been enjoying graduation.  I have spoken at many, many, many graduations, watching, really, hundreds of thousands of students walk across that stage to see the pride in their families; many of them the first in their families to graduate from college, to see the symbol of success and love and joy that is for those families.  They will be missing that ritual.  Sadly, whether it's college or high school or grade school and even going into middle school.

So, here we are, at a time when these young people – President Kennedy said young children are our greatest resource and our best hope for the future.  They are our hope.  But we must also give them hope as they go forward by alleviating the challenge our country is facing and make the future better for them.  It's always about the children and their future.

I urge our colleagues to consider all of those children all over America, but also in their own states, in their own districts, as they make their decision today that is so important to our country.  And that is why I am so grateful, Mr. Speaker, to our distinguished Chairwoman, Chair Nita Lowey of New York as Chair of the Appropriations Committee.

She and chairs of our committees have been dazzling, dazzling with a depth of knowledge of the subject, the extent of legislative brilliance that they have brought to all of this, knowing, knowing the challenge, understanding the policy, strategically thinking about how we can best accomplish and use money.  

This is not a Christmas tree.  There is nothing joyful about this.  This is a very strategically planned piece of legislation that is tailored strictly to meet the needs of the American people regarding the coronavirus pandemic.  To do anything less would not be responsible.  There's more we could have done, but again, wanting to keep the cost in line.  

When you talk about the cost, you have to think about the opportunity lost.  The Chairman of the Fed has told us to think big.  ‘It's never going to be cheaper,’ he said, because the cost of interest is so low.  The cost of credit is so low.  

And I say not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way, it is irresponsible because it's only going to cost more, more in terms of lives, livelihood, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.  As governors struggle, city halls, county executives struggle to make their budgets so depleted by this virus.  So, this funding is to make sure that they have the funds to take care of some of the funding of the coronavirus expenses directly, but also a recognition of the loss of revenue to their budgets because of this assault on our economy by this vicious little virus that we must defeat.

So, as we do that, I thank the distinguished Chairwoman for her extraordinary leadership.  She has a few more bills to go, a lot of time left, a great contribution to make, but I had the privilege of serving with her for decades.  And I'm sorry to see her leave the Congress, but she leaves a tremendous legacy.  

You know, we all believe that a budget should be a statement about our national values.  What is important to us as a nation should be reflected in our budgets and how we allocate our resources.  Chairwoman Lowey has been just that messenger of values as she has put forth her budget, and does so with respect for the Republicans on her committee and in this Congress and in this country.

Bipartisanship is the order of the day.  As a former member of the Appropriations Committee, where I was forged here, and Intelligence, I recognize full well the product, as Mr. Cole said, of appropriators working together.  I always say, left to their own devices, they can get the job done, and they will.  And I have no doubt that this legislation will have bipartisan support.  I just want it to be soon, because these governors can't wait.  

Right now, as I said, they are firing – they have many layoffs, because they don't have the money.  Are they going to raise property taxes?  We can make that go away in large measure if we pass this legislation, because it's not just about their budget.  It's about the services for the people of our country that will be lessened if we do not help.  

What are we here for but for the American people?  How are their services delivered, many ways by the state houses and the state legislatures, the city councils, mayors' offices and the rest.  We have a responsibility to make the strategic spending that we need to do.  That's what this bill does.

It's not for us to praise our heroes.  Everybody praises them and thanks them and honors them.  Words.  We need deeds, and we need real support for them.  We must always – this is the saddest part, all these people who have died.  I know, speaking on both sides of the aisle, hearing our colleagues speak, that all of us will always carry those people in our hearts, 87,000 now.   Hopefully we can curtail the growth of that number with our testing.  But we must make the decision to do so, and that is the decision we have to make here today.

I thank all of my colleagues for their thoughtful and prayerful consideration of The Heroes Act.  I thank all of you for your concern about the American people.  Let us come together and give them a real signal that we care by allocating the resources to meet their needs.  We pray for all of them, all of our constituents, and we pray and thank God for continuing to bless America.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I urge our colleagues to support The Heroes Act and I yield back the balance of my time.