Pelosi Remarks at Press Event Marking Two Months Since House Passage of The Heroes Act
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Chairman Richard E. Neal and Chairman Bobby Scott for a press event highlighting the urgent need for the Senate to take up The Heroes Act passed by the House on May 15. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone.
Today marks the two month anniversary of the passage of The Heroes Act. In that two months, so much has happened in our country that could have been prevented had the Republicans not called for a ‘pause,’ but had agreed to take action to protect the American people from the coronavirus threat.
This morning – this afternoon, I’m pleased to be joined by two of our distinguished Chairmen: the Chair of the Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott, and the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Richie Neal. Also, not with us, but an important part of putting together The Heroes Act, Frank Pallone. The Energy and Commerce Committee is marking up a bill now, so they are in committee. So, he cannot physically be with us here or virtually, but hard at work on what comes next.
We come together here at a time that the American people are very concerned about the most important and nearest and dearest to their heart: their children, the children, the education of their children. I’m glad that we’re joined by Chairman Bobby Scott to talk about that.
But let me just back up to The Heroes Act and what is in The Heroes Act that could be so helpful. Instead of the President saying that he is going to threaten to withhold funds from schools that don’t open up immediately, regardless of the health consequences, he should instead be encouraging the passage of The Heroes Act, which has, because of Bobby Scott, $100 billion education stabilization fund in it specific to the coronavirus. This is absolutely essential. In fact, in the passage of time and the demands that the President is making, we may need even more than that, at this point. We may need even more.
But, as you know, there are three strong pillars in The Heroes Act that I want to address that affect the education of our children. First, honor our heroes, so called because of our health care workers, our teachers, our teachers, our teachers, transit workers, sanitation workers, food suppliers and the rest, so many of them, so many of them employed by state and local government. And our first pillar in the bill is to honor our heroes, those who risk their lives to save lives and may lose their jobs.
In fact, a million and a half, across the country, of public employees already have because of the uncertainty in their budgets. Many of them had budget deadlines of June 30th. That bill, generously, but appropriately, allocates resources to offset the expenses incurred by the virus, but also the revenue lost because of the coronavirus. If you go to Speaker.gov/HeroesAct, look up wherever you are from, wherever you have lived, wherever you have friends and see how much has been allocated to, again, belay the cost of the virus, as well as offset the revenue lost.
When you think about how much money it is, it is very substantial for towns and cities and counties and states across the country, and look at that, and it’s for tribal governments and territories. Look at that, and think, ‘My, that is a lot money,’ and then understand that is only half of what the Republicans had in their tax scam of 2017, which added $2 trillion to the national deficit, giving 83 percent of the benefits to the top one percent. Really? No stimulus. No job creation. Only – and now to complain that this cost too much money, to pay for the coronavirus. That’s one.
Two, open our economy. Testing, testing, testing. Testing, tracing, treating, isolating, distancing. If we do that, and only if we do that, we’ll be able to open our economy safely and open our schools safely. But what you hear around the country is, ‘I couldn’t get a test because there wasn’t enough allocation of tests for me to get one.’
Well, there’s not enough test allocation because there’s not enough equipment, and there’s not enough equipment to judge the – to say whether someone is positive or negative because there isn’t enough equipment.
So, what we need, very strongly, is for the President to implement the Defense Production Act immediately, to address the need for testing equipment and equipment to make judgements about positive or negative. It also needs to be implemented, the Defense Production Act – we’ll call it the DPA from now on – for PPE. So essential. So, if we want to open up our economy, and now if we want to open up our schools, we have to have the testing, we have to have the judgement and, therefore, we need the equipment and we also need the PPE, the personal protective equipment. We need that. We need to have the separation in the schools. We need the equipment for sanitation, cleaning the schools again and again. This costs money, but it also needs equipment to get the job done. So, again, both of those are contained in The Heroes Act.
Third, putting money into the pockets of the American people. That security, that stimulus to our economy is very important with Unemployment Insurance expiring at the end of July. As well as the need for us to put in direct payments. Very, very important. Direct payments to individuals and families in our country.
Other things in the bill that I’ll talk about, in terms of funding for voting at home, issues that relate to feeding the hungry with our food stamp increase that is in there, protecting the Post Office and also having a strong OSHA provision.
But getting back to opening the schools, directly, all of it relates – the food – when we are opening the schools, we have to understand how we are going to feed the children if they’re learning – if they have distance learning. How we’re going to have equipment for them to engage in distance learning if we haven’t taken the steps necessary, in a safe way to open up the schools.
So in the CARES Act, we have specific legislation that calls for the use of the DPA, the Defense Production Act, for the purpose of PPE and equipment and all the rest. That’s in The Heroes Act. Some of it was in the CARES Act.
To that point, yesterday, a number of our chairmen, including Frank Pallone, wrote to the Secretary of [Defense] and the Secretary of HHS and spelled out what was in CARES and what was in Heroes to – specifically, what was in CARES because that’s been a while – to increase production of medical supplies and equipment under the DPA, but – and then they go into how it hasn’t, even though allocated, hasn’t been spent.
Again, I have four daughters who have children in school, from grade school to college. It is a cause of great concern, I know, in every family in America, some with more options than others. And we have to think of those with the fewest options and take the greatest care of all of our children, but recognizing the challenges that are faced by families as they make this difficult decision and school districts that are currently making the decisions about how and when to open.
So with that, I want to yield to the distinguished Chair of the Education and Labor Committee, who worked very hard to have the education stabilization provision in The Heroes Act, who then, same week, at the same time and in the last week we were here putting forth in the infrastructure bill strong language about how to address concerns that we have in our schools, even before the coronavirus when we talk about the safety in the schools and the predisposition of children to be susceptible to such a virus. I congratulate him for his great work. I thank Mr. Bobby Scott of Virginia, Chair of the Education and Labor Committee. Bobby, thank you.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I thank you for clearly pointing out how interconnected all the aspects of The Heroes Act are in terms of direct payments and Unemployment Insurance being stimulus to the economy, because people need that money. They spend it directly. They inject demand into the economy. They create jobs. And also, the interconnection of the health and well-being of the American people to our opening up the economy. Thank you.
And Mr. Scott, thank you also for pointing out the connection between the Education Stabilization Fund and all that that does to help our kids and getting them back to school, but also, the importance of the funding for state and local government, which runs our – by and large – our school system, provides more than 90 percent of the funding for school, pays our teachers and again, all the ancillary services, whether it’s transportation to school, whether it’s – again, the teachers, the custodians and the rest, as well as food, sanitation, public – first responders and the rest.
So, with that, I just want to say the following: this is – how many times have we had to say in the course of the pandemic, ‘We are at a critical moment?’ We really are at an even more critical moment now, because we know what the answers are. For two months now, we’ve spelled out a strategic plan in The Heroes Act, because in the other funding that we had put forth with testing, the Administration did not follow a strategic plan. In fact, they didn’t even spend some of the money in a way as was designated by those bills.
So, we were very specific. And one of our chairmen who isn’t here, but was very much a part of all this, Frank Pallone, the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee was instrumental with his committee in putting forth that second pillar, open our economy, testing, tracing, treating, separation, et cetera. So, I thank him for his leadership in that regard. And he is part of this letter to the Secretaries of Defense and HHS asking, ‘Where is the money that we allocated so far for the equipment?’
But we can talk all we want about testing, tracing, et cetera, but if we don’t have the equipment people are standing in line or their cars are in line for what – to see whether they even qualify to be tested. We need to know the extent of the pandemic in order for us to take the caliber of action necessary, and we need to know how communities of color are disproportionately affected by this. If we’re going to have the proper testing, tracing, treating, we can do that, but you have to have the equipment. You have to have the equipment.
So, we’re saying to the President, ‘Mr. President, get us the equipment, the Defense Production Act, require PPE, personal protective equipment, not only just to open up the schools, but to protect our heroes, our health care workers, whether they’re at state and local government or privately. PPE, we need it. Why don’t we have it? Because you will not, for some reason, implement the Defense Production Act. Why don’t we have enough equipment to test appropriately, and to be able to make judgements on those tests as to whether they’re positive or negative. They’d rather them waiting seven days to find out one way or another when a result is practically obsolete, one way or another, because it is so late. 24-48 hours, that should be the extent of it.
There is an answer. There’s a plan. The resources are designated in a very appropriate way. But we need the equipment, and we can’t have it unless the President implements the Defense Production Act.
Also, I just want to point out that, again, families across America are very concerned. It has been said by the distinguished Chair Scott, people – children want to go to school. We want them to learn. We want them to socialize. Teachers want them to be in school. Parents want them to be in school, but we cannot risk their health and safety and indeed their lives or the lives of anyone they might bring this home to. Our teachers, our custodians, people who work in public schools need to be protected.
So, the point is, is that we can’t follow the attitude of this Administration. ‘If you don’t open up, we’re not giving you money.’ No, we are going to give you money so that you can open up. It’s in The Heroes Act. And we can’t follow the lead of the Secretary of Education who said, ‘Why shouldn’t children take risks, astronauts take risks?’ Oh really? Well maybe when they’re an astronaut they will decide to take that risk. But we have to decide for them that going to school is not a risk to their health and to their safety.
With that, I’d be pleased to take any questions.
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, ma’am.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Can you give us a status update on the state of negotiations right now? Leader McConnell earlier today said that he spoke with Secretary Mnuchin about the COVID relief legislation. Have you negotiated at all with Republicans, with Leader McConnell or Secretary Mnuchin?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I think you have seen the public evolution of their thinking. When we first passed this they said, ‘There’s no way, never. We need a pause. It’s too much money,’ and all the rest. And now, we’ve passed the June 30th deadline for state and local governments to carefully prepare their budgets. We are sadly approaching the deadline for the expiration of the unemployment benefits. This is really important. Imagine the uncertainty in households across America now who depend on the Unemployment Insurance because, through no fault of their own, they have lost their jobs because of this pandemic. And they have to wait and see what the Senate might decide.
But anyway, they went from zero to now 1.3 [trillion dollars]. That’s not enough. We need more. But we see the public evolution of their thinking. At this same time, the [Chairman] of the Fed recommended to Congress that we recognize the role that state and local government play – plays in our economy and the jobs that they create and the, again, demand that injects into the economy. The Secretary of the Treasury has said that we need to do more. Both of them indicate that the economic downturn could be much worse if we don’t act in a very serious way now.
So, they’ve made some – one or the other – there’s recognition that there’s going to be a bill. Let me just put it that way.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, is there any openness on Unemployment Insurance and enhanced benefit to do something that’s not $600 per week? Perhaps, do you see a compromise there with Republicans at maybe $300 or $400?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, you know, it’s interesting because that pillar, you know we had the pillars of honor our heroes, open our economy with testing, and that pillar is about putting money into the pockets of the American people.
One piece of it is Unemployment Insurance and the benefit you are talking about, and another part of it is how we put direct payments into the families, $6,000 to a family of five, desperately needed by these families, again, spent immediately, injecting demand into the economy, being a stimulus. So, we will see what that entire package looks like.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, following up on another question. Are you being included on any of the conversations –
Speaker Pelosi. It’s not a question of included. We put our marker on the table. It’s very disciplined. It’s nothing more than we need. Although, I must say, we may need more for education now that the President is making the demand that he is making.
So, it’s not a question of who is included. It’s a question of the American people requiring this. Democrats and Republicans and state and local government across the country are weighing in on this in a major way. We think it’s going in the right direction.
Q: Are we going to see money for schools being contingent on them reopening? And secondly, also, are you willing to see Congress going on recess in August without a bill being put on the President’s desk?
Speaker Pelosi. No and no. So, your first question: do I think money to schools being contingent on their opening? No, I think their opening is contingent on their receiving money, but not money as a threat, money as a precaution to protect the children to have the spacing, smaller classes, more teachers needed, more personnel, therefore, across the board needed in a way that is safe for our children.
And no I don’t think – we have to have a bill, and we will have a bill. And hopefully we will have it sooner rather than later because people really need to have it. And we should have it before the expiration of the Unemployment Insurance.
Q: On the question of Unemployment Insurance, Democrats have traditionally viewed that as an effective form of stimulus –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: On the other hand, Republicans say that it’s unfair or inappropriate to have an unemployment benefit to exceed somebody’s previous paycheck. So you’re really going to butt heads over this. How much of an obstacle will that be and are you going to really go to the mat for this $600 that –
Speaker Pelosi. Were you associating yourself with the previous question? I think I answered that question.
I don’t have any intention of butting any heads. If we butt any heads, it’s going to be over the safety of our children. You know my whole purpose in politics – the three most important issues facing the Congress: our children, our children, our children. And that’s where I butt heads. That’s the hill I fight on.
We will – you know, it’s so funny to me when you talk about $600 versus $400. They had no hesitation to give 83 percent of the benefits of their tax scam to the top one percent. We believe, as Democrats, that when there is an intervention that is needed, a public intervention that it needed, it should be used in the most effective way; where it is most needed and where it is going to have the most stimulus for the economy.
And, in that third pillar, we have the Unemployment Insurance, the boost, because this is a highly unusual situation and some would say unique. Secondly, food stamps, which are a big stimulus and, by the way, they have resisted that while people are in long lines, in cars, going to – going to food banks that they never ever thought that they would be going to. And there they are, in food bank lines. And the Republicans in Congress are like – they rejected it.
In one bill we had some food stamp change. This time we have more so, and they have resisted that. Hopefully what they see in their own communities will touch their hearts and they will understand that even middle income families are not able to put food on the table in the present economic situation.
So, again, all of that is – most economics tell us when you’re doing something like this, in a situation like this, put the money where it is needed most because that is where it will be spent first, ejecting – injecting demand into the economy, creating jobs, a stimulus – a stimulus. And so, we’ll see how it goes with the conversation about that. But, some of it depends on what they’re willing to do on the direct payments as well.
This isn’t about government philosophy or any political differences of opinion. This is about meeting the needs of the American people at the time of a pandemic that has lost about 40 million jobs, that we have had the sixteenth straight week of unemployment benefit requests, exceeding one million per week, sixteen weeks.
This is about a terrible threat health-wise that has an impact on the economy and on our schooling as well. So we have to think big. And you can’t think – you can’t solve the problem unless you have the tools to do so. And that’s why the President has to answer for his delinquency in not implementing the Defense Production Act to produce the equipment so that people can take the tests and that the tests can be analyzed in a 24-48 hour period, not wait a week or longer to find out if they’re positive or negative and, by then, they have to get tested all over again because the information is obsolete.
Q: One of the things that wasn’t included in The Heroes Act was this idea about –
Speaker Pelosi. Excuse me, if you could.
Q: Oh, I’m sorry.
Speaker Pelosi. You don’t have to take it off, but just talk slower please.
Q: I’m sorry. One of the things that wasn’t included in The Heroes Act was the issue of liability protections.
Speaker Pelosi. That’s right.
Q: I’m wondering where you’re seeing compromise with the Senate on that?
Speaker Pelosi. We think the most important way to protect our workers and our employers, and customers and clients of businesses as well, is to have a strong OSHA provision in the legislation.
We tried that with the very first COVID bill. All along we’ve tried to have that. They have resisted that.
But, just think of it: if you have OSHA standards that say to an employer, if you do this – you must do this, this, this and this to protect your workers and your customers, clients, whatever, and they do that, that is their protection. It’s their protection. It’s the protection of their workers. It’s their best defense.
It is a far better solution than saying to workers, ‘You’re an essential worker. You have to go to work. You won’t get Unemployment Insurance if you don’t because you’re an essential worker. And by the way, we’re not implementing any OSHA provisions, not the ones that exist now or even the enhanced one, which we are not agreeing to. So, if you get sick, you have no recourse.’ That just isn’t fair.
Okay. No, you had one. You had one. Any new – any others without a question, who haven’t had a question?
Okay. I really do have to get back to my day job. I thank you all for being here at this time.
Every day that goes by, the anxiety deepens in the homes – households of America. The kitchen table concerns about how they’re going to pay the bills. How are they going to put food on the table? Are they going to be able to send their children to school? Are they at risk – are they at risk of being infected, and what does that mean in terms of transmission to other members of the family?
What are we disconnected from that, that we don’t understand that there are solutions? And, if you want four words on how to solve it: science, science, science and science. But, instead, we have an Administration that ignores the science and dislikes the governance that goes with it. The science tells us that this would be the best path, but you don’t want to exercise any standards, from a governmental standpoint.
The American people – the virus continues. We are at a moment. If we don’t recognize that, it’s going to be even worse, and we must prevent it from being worse.
We can beat this. We are Americans. We are the United States of America. We see other countries solving this. We can do that. We can do better. But we have to decide to do it. It’s all a decision. A decision the President can make in one respect by deciding to implement the Defense Production Act, or else, answer for it. Why aren’t you?
Why aren’t you anticipating the need that we know we already have to a great extent for the equipment, for the PPE, equipment in every way. And even more that we’re going to need if, God-willing, soon we pray that it will be true that there’s a vaccine or cures and the rest. What are the syringes, the vials, the equipment that is needed to convey – to administer to the needs of people with that vaccine.
We’ve just got to be thinking way ahead. That’s what we do in The Heroes Act. We hope that within the next couple of weeks it will be the law of the land.
Thank you all very much.