WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted Republicans’ handling of ongoing coronavirus stimulus talks in a town hall meeting with her New York City constituents on Thursday evening. The congresswoman accused the GOP Senate majority of “fighting against” efforts to get direct payments issued to Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The federal government in all of this negotiation has been getting balanced on the backs of our families here, and it’s just truly unconscionable,” the Democrat said. “What’s happening is that folks in our community are on the brink of eviction. We have just an insane amount of food instability in our community, and it just feels like the Republican Party in the Senate just doesn’t care.”
The current stimulus bill in Congress includes direct payments of $600 to $700 per person who qualifies. Ocasio-Cortez said the House progressive caucus, of which she is one of the most prominent members, fought to have those payments included. Congress is currently negotiating the stimulus package, which would be the second COVID-19 relief package since March.
Massive economic disruption wrought by the pandemic has led to unprecedented spikes in the unemployment rate. Ocasio-Cortez, whose New York City district was particularly hard hit by the virus, blamed opposition to direct payments on Republicans making corporate liability protections a priority.
“What is rather astonishing to me is that we know that there are hungry people in their states too. … There are people that are on the brink of eviction in their states too,” she said. “For whatever reason, they are more passionate about corporate liability protections and essentially corporate immunity … and they don’t want to authorize unemployment or stimulus checks.”
Democrats have resisted a Republican-backed provision that would exempt businesses from some COVID-19 safety regulations. The stimulus is set to be included in a larger spending package that must be approved by Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he might hold a rare weekend session to pass the legislation.
Asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, McConnell’s press secretary, Doug Andres, pointed to a statement McConnell made yesterday indicating that the Senate was “discussing” direct payments at “the particular urging of President Trump and [Treasury] Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin, who have continued to be the champions of cash relief for American families.”
Andres also noted there were direct payments included in the HEALS Act, a stimulus package authored by the Republican Senate majority that was unveiled in July. While that plan included $1,200 direct payments, it also included cuts to extended unemployment benefits.
In her town hall, Ocasio-Cortez said the most current version of the second stimulus proposal includes a “weekly boost” of $300 to unemployment benefits. It also includes $330 billion for small business relief, $257 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program and $90 billion in local and state aid that would be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prior draft proposals from Senate Republicans have included no local aid.
Ocasio-Cortez said states needed more aid and through more direct means to avoid “really regressive tax increases, and the degradation of our infrastructure, and just massive layoffs.” She said that Democrats would “fight” for more state and local aid, and that she was pushing for retroactive unemployment benefits. Currently, more than 30 million Americans are unemployed.
Overall, she suggested, some of these goals might be impossible until President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
“I think what the name of the game is right now is survival till Jan. 20 and reassessing our situation from there,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
Along with characterizing the current proposal as inadequate, she also blasted the fact that there was no relief package passed during the summer.
“This is just not enough, but we’re being held hostage right now, frankly,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The Republican Party is holding the entire 30 million [unemployed] Americans hostage so they can get corporate liability protections, and it’s just a huge wrong. … We’re fighting as much as we can.”
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