House Committees Mark Up Stimulus Plan, Seek $25 Billion More in Rental Assistance

This is my update for Wednesday, February 10th. Today is the second day of the impeachment trial in the Senate, as I said yesterday this is mostly a foregone conclusion, like Senator Lindsey Graham said today “the case is over, it’s just a matter of getting the final verdict now.”

And I would still be very surprised if we saw enough Republican Senators change their minds, but Bill Cassidy actually switched his vote yesterday on whether or not the impeachment trial is constitutional after seeing the evidence presented by the impeachment managers.

You might remember this if you’ve been following my updates, some Republicans have been saying that you can’t impeach and convict someone who’s no longer in office, and the first vote on that question was 45-55 with just five Republicans supporting the trial.

Well now that’s six, and again the vote was only on whether the trial itself was constitutional rather than on whether Trump should actually be convicted, but I thought it was interesting that what they showed was enough to convince another Republican Senator who had previously been against it. 

Along with the impeachment trial this week is also when committees in the House of Representatives can start marking up their sections of the reconciliation bill, yesterday was Education and Labor, today is Transportation and Infrastructure, Financial Services, and Agriculture, and today is also the first of three markup days for the Ways and Means committee, which has the largest section of the stimulus plan including the $1,400 direct payments.

The Education and Labor committee already released their work on the reconciliation bill, of course the actual text is almost 100 pages, but there are a few points I want to highlight here. First, I’ve been talking a lot about the $15 minimum wage recently, whether it’s something the Democrats will be able to get enough votes for in the COVID relief bill, and also whether that’s something that can be passed through budget reconciliation even with a majority.

And I can’t answer either of those for you today, but the way that the Education and Labor committee marked up the plan includes a provision to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, so again that doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing to make it into the final bill, but it at least survived one more step in the reconciliation process. 

OK, I don’t have time to get into everything that they worked on, but I do want to mention some of the highlights that Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott brought up yesterday when he was speaking about his committee’s work on the bill.

First, they want $130 billion in funding to help schools reopen while following CDC guidelines, things like repairing ventilation, minimizing class sizes, supplying personal protective equipment, hiring extra staff, et cetera, and 20 percent of that money, or $26 billion, has to be used to address time that was lost from traditional classroom instruction.

There’s also $40 billion for early childhood care and education, which will go toward keeping child care options open, plus another $4 billion to help low-income families cover heating and cooling. Finally, they want to subsidize COBRA health insurance premiums for workers who are either laid off or not working as many hours, they want to increase the value of some WIC benefits, and they want to give $150 million to the Department of Labor to help them enforce worker protections during the pandemic. 

The Financial Services Committee also released their markup today, Chairwoman Maxine Waters gave an opening statement on their relief plan, the committee has a total of $75 billion to use on programs within the scope of financial services, and she announced that they want that to be divided into $25 billion toward rental assistance, $15 billion for the Payroll Support Program, which is intended to help airlines and related companies, $10 billion for small businesses, $10 billion for struggling homeowners, $10 billion for the production of medical equipment under the Defense Production Act, and $5 billion to support people experiencing homelessness.

Again I’ll leave a link in the description in case anyone wants to read the markup, but that’s how the Financial Services Committee wants the funds to be distributed.  As I said the two other committees working on this today are Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure, again I’m not going to go through the entire proposal, but the Agriculture committee released the text of their markup today and Chairman David Scott touched on a few of the key provisions in his opening statement.

First, they want to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent through September 30th, they want $800 million in funding for Food for Peace, which provides foreign food aid, and they also want $3.6 billion in funding for the Secretary of Agriculture to help the agricultural supply chain.

Another issue they’re targeting is the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides healthy food to low-income people over 60, and the Agriculture committee wants to earmark $37 million to help supply commodities for people who rely on that assistance.

They also want to fund $1 billion in aid for programs that support minority farmers through training, land access, financial education, and other programs. Finally, they earmarked $500 million to help rural hospitals and local communities provide food assistance and distribute COVID-19 vaccines through the Community Facility Program.  The last committee is Transportation and Infrastructure, again the text of their work is in the description for those of you who want to read it, and Chairman Peter DeFazio described what his committee wants to do with their nearly $100 billion in stimulus funding during his opening statement earlier today.

First, they want to set aside $50 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund as insurance against any future crises, plus $30 billion in Federal Transit Administration grants which will cover protective equipment, payroll reimbursement, operating costs due to lost revenue, et cetera.

That portion of the markup is designed to help retain more than 400,000 transit workers who have been affected by the decline in public transportation since the beginning of the pandemic. They also want to earmark $1.5 billion to keep Amtrak running and $8 billion to support airports and related businesses.

To be clear, that $8 billion would be separate from the $15 billion allocated by the Financial Services Committee for the Payroll Support Program, which included $14 billion for airline employees and $1 billion for contractors. Finally, last point, they proposed $3 billion in funding for the Economic Development Administration, some of you may be familiar with that, but basically it’s responsible for economic growth in underdeveloped areas and places that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the recession. 

OK, I know that’s a lot, remember we are still waiting for the Veterans Affairs, Energy and Commerce, Small Business, and Oversight and Reform committees to publish their markups by the end of the week. The Budget committee will take over from these individual committees next week, they’re responsible for bringing all these markups back into one package, and finally the Rules committee will prepare the bill for a vote on the House floor by the end of the month.

So there’s still a long way to go, and none of the work the committees are doing right now will be set in stone until then.

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