Pelosi Speaks On Democrats' Priorities For Interim Coronavirus Relief Bill
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Congress has barely begun to spend the record $2 trillion dollars relief money that were signed into law almost two weeks ago, and already there is an intense debate over how big the next package should be. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is one of the leaders of that debate, and she joins us now.
Madam Speaker, thanks for being here.
NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure always. Thank you.
SHAPIRO: We also have NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell on the line to join in the questioning. And, Kelsey, why don't you kick us off?
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yes. Hi, Madam Speaker. Let's start with the administration's move to add $250 billion to the pot for small business relief. That's on top of the $350 billion in loans that Congress already approved. Democrats are asking for another $250 billion for hospitals and local governments as well. My question is, does the White House support this? And if the Senate passes the business aid alone, as they plan to, can that pass the House without the added money you've asked for?
PELOSI: Well, let me just say thank you for calling attention very currently to what is happening. Yesterday morning, I got a call from Secretary Mnuchin saying we need $250 billion more on top of the 350. We're very proud of the program, the Paycheck Protection Program that is there. Our chair of the small business committee, Nydia Velazquez, is an expert on all this and made her imprint on so many things that affect small business in the legislation. What we said - I said to the secretary, I'll have to get back to you because one of the concerns that we have about the original 350 is that a lot of money first come first served, and many unbanked - people who are under banked or unserved on that basis, so they don't have banking relationships, sophisticated in a way that others do.
So we said for the next 250, we really need to have a percentage of that - $60 billion - that would go to something called community development financial institutions. And that's - that includes a number of things that they would open the way for others to participate. It's really important because we cannot solidify the inequality to access to capital that exists in our economy at a time when we are addressing the coronavirus crisis.
SHAPIRO: Madam Speaker, if I could ask you about the $2 trillion package that Congress passed almost two weeks ago - some of that money has been slow to reach people. State governments are complaining they don't have information they need to increase unemployment checks. Small businesses are reporting problems applying for loans. No individuals have seen a check from the IRS yet. So there's this massive need and a massive sum of money to address the need, but do you think you underestimated the amount of work it would take to connect the cash with the people who need it?
PELOSI: No. We've encouraged the administration. We want this to work. You know, we passed three bills in the month of March to address this. March 4, our first bill about testing, testing, testing - I'm still not satisfied about how that has been implemented. The next bill was about masks, masks, masks and all that that implies; all of it addressing the emergency. The second - the third bill, which is the second phase, is about mitigation, mitigating for the damage to the lives and the livelihood of the American people. And we're proud of that product. We turned it from a Republican corporate trickle-down bill to a workers-first bubble-up bill.
SHAPIRO: But in terms of the actual infrastructure to get money to the people who need it urgently...
PELOSI: That's right. And that's what we're encouraging the administration to do. We passed the legislation. They have to implement the law. The secretary says that the checks will be there next week. We say transfer them electronically. Don't worry about putting them in the mail. Transfer them electronically and they are - claimed to us, and I believe them that they are trying to do that. It won't cover everybody, and so they're trying to mitigate for that as well.
The small business issues - hopefully, people will get their answers. They started on Friday. Again, this is a massive $2 trillion program affecting millions of small businesses, tens of millions of Americans to get the direct payment. And we are proud of what we got in the bill. We wanted more, frankly, for the direct payments. And that's for the next bill.
SHAPIRO: Well, as you know, states are already saying there's not enough money to meet the need. I mean, here's Gavin Newsom, governor of your state, in an interview I did on this program yesterday.
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GAVIN NEWSOM: We're going to need substantial increase in a fourth stimulus above and beyond what they're currently even offering in order to protect the state and the most vulnerable citizens in the state and to protect cities and counties that have been entrusted to do the same.
SHAPIRO: Madam Speaker, how do you respond to that?
PELOSI: I think he's absolutely right. In the bill that we just passed, the CARES bill, we had 200 billion that - we thought we needed more, but that was a doable figure. They did 150, and that just said, this is a down payment. I said it at that time. This is a down payment. And so that's why, when they came back and asked for the 250, we said, well, if you want to go to the floors of the House and Senate, then let's go with $150 billion more for Senate - excuse me - for states and localities. We have to do that now. They don't want to do that now. I don't know why. But we'll - you know, the White House says they don't support that, but we do.
And again, whether we get it in this next couple of days, which I hope we will, even at that, we will need more in this CARES 2 legislation. The states and the localities are bearing a tremendous, tremendous burden in all of this. And one of the things that I am especially happy about that we will have in this next legislation is to compensate states and cities for what they have already spent, so that there's a relationship to where the money goes as to where the challenge is very significantly.
SNELL: To follow on that, would you block the bill coming out of the Senate if it doesn't include that additional money and the additional controls you're asking for? Polls have shown that people don't want to see partisan fighting right now, and I wonder if you can address that in this package.
PELOSI: Well, let me say two things about that, Kelsey. And I appreciate your question. First of all, the bill that they put forth doesn't - will not get unanimous support in the House, it just won't. So we're saying to them, why do you have an objection to lower - smaller businesses who have, again, want to participate in this program, need to participate in the program, that you want to participate in a program because you don't want them going onto unemployment? Why wouldn't you give them an avenue to participate? We're talking about $60 billion of that kind of community development resources to go to helping community banks, not micro lending, issues like that. That's $60 billion of the 250.
The rest of the money in that small business piece goes to something that is already in the bill, and that is to increase the number of - the amount of money for direct grants to small businesses - $15 billion. The next is for disaster loans, which are very, very popular and small businesses participate in them, to add $50 billion to that. So most of it is to reinforce what they have already, except for $60 billion, which we're saying has to go to the under banked or unbanked or however you want to term...
SHAPIRO: Madam Speaker, these figures you're listing off underscore that we are talking about inconceivable sums of money that you are turning over to the executive branch to distribute. And yesterday, the president fired the inspector general who was chosen to give this spending some level of accountability. What are you and the Congress going to do about that?
PELOSI: Well, the point is that's why we're saying in the bill that we want to spell out how the money is spent and not leave it to them when they say to us, well, we intend to do that; we'll just make an announcement. No, that doesn't count. We want it codified as to the...
SHAPIRO: But as to the $2 trillion bill that was already passed, how do you impose accountability at this point?
PELOSI: Well, I've put a committee - you know, we have several in the committee - in the bill itself. We have the five-member committee that Congress appoints. And then we have the committee that the president is trying to undermine. And what he is doing is so very, very wrong. But we cannot - again, we cannot allow this to happen without a bright light shining on. And that's why I appointed the committee to investigate - the committee for - to oversee the coronavirus challenge that we face. Mr. Clyburn is the chair of that.
And that's based on something that Harry Truman did when he was a senator in a Democratic administration. He was a senator of 1941, the start of the war. He said, after World War I, there were 116 committees to investigate the spending of World War I. I would rather have one committee in the course of the war to spend it, not after the war. And that is to make sure there's not waste, fraud and abuse, profiteering, price gouging and the rest of that.
SNELL: Madam Speaker, on that, knowing that these huge bills, as Ari said, have very hard to conceive numbers - they will have a long-term impact on the deficit - do you see any limits on how much should be spent on relief?
PELOSI: No. I think we have to spend what we need. And by the way, let me just say since you mentioned how large the $2 trillion bill was - it was around the same size as the Republicans did in a tax cut for the high-end, 83% of the benefits going to the top 1% with - adding - with interest nearly $2 trillion to the deficit with no benefit to America's working families. This is...
SHAPIRO: You're talking about the tax cut there.
PELOSI: ...A similar amount of money, much better purpose. And we have to do it with a bright light of scrutiny shining on, how is this money spent? Where is it going? And this is not an offense to the president. It's about how big money attracts some kind of profiteering and price gouging and the rest. So we'll be looking at how it is spent and, again, protecting the taxpayer and, of course, those whose lives and livelihoods are affected, which is everybody in our country - are affected by this.
SHAPIRO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we - I'm afraid we have to leave it there, but thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.