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Pelosi: 'No red lines' for bill to help struggling state and local governments

Pelosi said strong Labor Department guidelines, included in the HEROES Act, would protect workers and employees.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference at the Capitol on May 14, 2020.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference at the Capitol on May 14, 2020Alex Wong / Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday she has "no red lines" when it comes to passing hundreds of billions in emergency aid to state and local governments.

Her comments came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week he wouldn't support a new coronavirus relief bill without a provision removing liability from companies that bring workers back amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"My red line going forward on this bill is we need to provide protection, litigation protection, for those who have been on the front lines," he told Fox News on Tuesday.

Speaking with CBS' "Face the Nation" after the House passed Pelosi's HEROES Act late last week, Pelosi was asked about McConnell's stance.

"Well we have no red lines, but the fact is the best protection for our workers and our employers is to follow very good OSHA mandatory guidelines and we have that in our bill," Pelosi said. "And that protects workers, protects their lives, as well as protects the employer if they follow the guidelines. Remember, when people go to work, they go home, they could bring it home to their children or they could bring it to a senior living in their home. This is beyond just the individual at work."

The HEROES Act contains a provision requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue standards requiring workplaces to design and implement infection control plans in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, in addition to preventing workplaces from retaliating against workers who report workplace outbreak issues.

Among other provisions, the HEROES Act would provide nearly $1 trillion in emergency relief to struggling state and local governments that have seen revenue sources dry up amid the coronavirus pandemic. An NBC News survey of 33 states and Washington, D.C. found that the outbreak will cost states hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue in the upcoming fiscal year.

Congressional Republicans and the White House have said the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. Pelosi said Sunday that "no bill" becomes law "without negotiations." She said the prior four bills on coronavirus aid have all been passed in a bipartisan manner.

"The bill that Leader McConnell put forth, CARES 1, was his offer," Pelosi said. "Nobody said it doesn't have a chance because he just put it forth, the interim PPP bill was his offer."

She said she has confidence significant aid will be passed for state and local governments because lawmakers know teachers, sanitation workers, health care workers, police and firefighters are all at risk of losing their jobs otherwise.

Pelosi's comments echoed budget officials across the country who spoke with NBC News expressing hope that Congress will pass additional funding so they can avoid massive cuts. During the last economic downturn in 2009, the slow recovery for state and local governments put a drag on how quick the overall economy was able to emerge from the Great Recession.

Republicans, meanwhile, are split over the path forward for state relief — both on whether more money should be provided and if existing appropriated funds for states can be made more flexible. States received $150 billion in emergency funding in earlier COVID-19 legislation, but the Treasury Department has said that money can only be used to cover costs directly associated with the pandemic, not on filling budget gaps.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that "none" of the budget issues his state is facing is a result of any preexisting financial conditions. His state is facing a budget hole of more than $54 billion.

"We're not looking for charity, we're not looking for handouts," Newsom said, adding that states "are facing unprecedented budgetary stress. It is incumbent upon the federal government to help support these states through this difficult time."

Newsom added the funding is "not a red issue or a blue issue."

"This is impacting every state in America," he said.

Elsewhere, on "Face the Nation," Gary Cohn, formerly Trump's top economic adviser, said he thinks aid for state and local governments is "very important" and that states having to lay off such workers "would be the complete wrong outcome here."

"So the federal government does have to step in and help out states just like they've helped small businesses and big businesses," Cohn said. "They should help the states."

But Cohn said that "doesn't mean they should return the states to perfect financial condition."