House Democrats released an economic stimulus bill today that would provide another $3 trillion in federal coronavirus aid, though Senate Republicans said the measure is dead-on-arrival.
The 1,800-page "Heroes Act" comes as the U.S. unemployment rate has hit nearly 15% because of COVID-19, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), speaking on the Senate floor today, said the bill is "exactly the wrong approach" and dismissed it as a "laundry list of pet priorities." He also questioned the wisdom of adding more to the deficit after the federal government has already approved roughly $3 trillion in COVID-19 aid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a press conference that "not acting is the most expensive course."
McConnell said Republicans would offer their own COVID-19 package that would protect employers from lawsuits if workers become infected in the workplace.
Along with injecting nearly $1 trillion into state and local governments, the House Democrats' bill would also establish a $200 million "Heroes Fund" for essential workers.
The bill would also expand the Defense Production Act to increase the production of critical medical supplies, including diagnostic tests and personal protection equipment.
The bill includes several provisions relevant to federal contractors, including measures that would allow teleworking and require the Trump administration to issue government-wide guidance on implementation of reimbursements to companies keeping their employees and subcontractors in a "ready state." The Pentagon is already working on such guidance and expects to release it this month.
Additionally, the bill would ensure that contractors are not penalized by adverse performance ratings due to COVID-19 disruptions.
The legislation would also require contracting officers to pay prime contractors within 15 days of the submission of an invoice. The Pentagon has made accelerating payments to contractors a top priority.
Meanwhile, the bill does not appear to contain Pentagon stimulus funds to prop up the defense industrial base -- an issue that may be debated in the coming weeks or months.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) has said supplemental funds are not necessary for DOD, unless they are related to health measures. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last week the department intends to request supplemental funding from Congress, including money to “prime” the defense industrial base.
The legislation, meanwhile, is loaded with additional provisions likely to draw political backlash, one of which would open the federal banking system to marijuana dispensaries.
The bill would also prohibit the president from removing any inspector general without cause and would require an explanation for any failure to nominate an inspector general if the position is vacant for more than 210 days.
Democrats criticized President Trump last month when acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had served in the post since 2016, was sidelined from chairing the committee charged with overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package previously passed by Congress.
Fine was also directed to revert to his position as principal deputy inspector general, while Sean O'Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general, became the acting DOD IG in addition to his current duties at EPA.