House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is eager to show Americans that her party has the coronavirus outbreak under control — but behind closed doors, it’s politics as usual.
The Democrat leader tried to include abortion funding in a stimulus package designed to help Americans struggling financially from the pandemic, holding up negotiations over the plan, White House officials told the Daily Caller. As of Friday, though, Democrats had walked back the abortion stipulations and, according to Pelosi, ultimately reached a deal with the White House.
Politicizing the crisis
As America records over 1,600 infections and at least 41 deaths, COVID-19 is making its impact felt in the daily lives of millions of Americans. With schools closing, public events canceled, and more employers sending their workers home, Americans are looking to their leaders to take control of a rapidly evolving crisis.
But political posturing continued to hobble those efforts, as Democrats and Republicans negotiated a stimulus bill to help Americans weather the outbreak. Among the hiccups: Democrats tried to push language that would open up loopholes to allow for federally funded abortions, White House officials told the Daily Caller.
The provision would have designated $1 billion for the reimbursement of laboratory claims, which White House officials explained could create a way to bypass the Hyde Amendment that blocks federal funding for abortions.
“A new mandatory funding stream that does not have Hyde protections would be unprecedented,” one White House official explained. “Under the guise of protecting people, Speaker Pelosi is working to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent covering abortion — which is not only backwards, but goes against historical norms.”
Pelosi eventually backtracked on the abortion stipulation Thursday and announced that Democrats were “close” to a deal with the White House, according to The Hill. Clearly eager to take charge, Pelosi planned to push the bill to a vote on Friday, even without the agreement of Republicans, a move that was made unnecessary by the announcement of an agreement late in the day.
“Today, we are passing a bill that does just that,” she said earlier on Friday, as she called for a “coordinated, science-based and whole of government response.”
Republicans blasted Pelosi’s plan as a partisan, opportunist grab bag. Another sticking point had been paid leave: Republicans voiced concern that the proposal might become a new, permanent entitlement program, a concern Democrats sought to mollify by including a sunset provision. President Trump has focused primarily on a payroll tax holiday, a form of economic relief that was not included in the draft of the bill.
Senate stance remains unclear
Democrats had criticized the proposed payroll tax holiday as a giveaway to corporations, and some Republicans remained wary that it would expand the national debt. But President Trump — certainly no fiscal hawk — has already signed into law billions of dollars to fight the outbreak, and he is poised to pour billions more into the effort after declaring a national emergency.
Trump complained about the inclusion of “goodies” that have “nothing to do” with the outbreak, and at a press conference earlier on Friday, he snubbed Democrats for “not giving enough” in the deal. According to Pelosi, the agreement ultimately reached with the White House includes free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, stronger unemployment insurance for workers furloughed due to the public health, and supplemental food stamp and Medicaid funding.
This all came as Trump and Republican lawmakers appeared ready to approach one of the biggest crises of this presidency with an open purse. No politician wants to look stingy in a time like this. But even worse than stinginess is opportunism, and it all begs the question of what, exactly, providing funds for abortion ever had to do with a global pandemic. Whether the Senate will approve the proposal next week remains to be seen.