PBS News Hour: A bipartisan group in the House is still trying to deliver a virus aid deal
How do you break a stalemate?
Lawmakers and the White House remain at odds on how to agree on relief to the economic casualties of COVID. Despite the odds, a group of U.S. House members on both sides of the aisle are trying to breach the divide.
John Yang has the story.
Judy, the group of 25 House Democrats and 25 House Republicans calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus. Its new plan has a $1.5 trillion price tag.
It would provide unemployment benefits, starting at $450 a week, new stimulus checks for lower-income Americans, $1,200 per adult, $500 per child, $500 billion in new aid for state and local governments, and as much as $25 billion in rental assistance.
The two co-chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus are Representative Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat of New Jersey, and Republican Tom Reed of New York. They join us from Capitol Hill, as you can see, appropriately distanced for the pandemic.
Mr. Gottheimer, I'd like to start with you.
The leaders of the Democratic Caucus were less than enthusiastic about this — your proposal. The eight chairmen issued a statement saying that it was not enough to save lives, not enough to boost the economy. And they said that, in certain areas, it was even a step backward.
Given that, how do you use this as a way to chart a path forward to show how compromise is possible?
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.:
Well, obviously, I have a deep respect for our chairs and their priorities, which is why all of them are actually in our package, from state and local support, to up to $600 a week for unemployment, to $1,200 direct checks.
You know, what we focused on when we came together as Democrats and Republicans was, how do we get over the humps that have kept us stuck for the last four months without giving any relief to the American people and to small businesses?
You can talk about something we voted on three, four months ago, but how do we actually get parties back to the table to get things done, instead of just fighting with each other? And that's really been our objective here.
We got Democrats and Republicans together and put a framework together of actually bipartisan agreement. And, to me, doing something is much better than doing nothing.
Mr. Reed, I do want to ask you, what are you hearing from the White House? What are you hearing from your Republican colleagues in the other chamber, in the Senate?
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.:
I will tell you, if you look at what the White House has said, Mark Meadows, what the press secretary said today, they highlighted our Problem Solvers Caucus work as a great step in the right direction, that they are willing to go in the room.
Just as the speaker said, we are staying here in D.C. until we get a deal done. Those are all positive statements that we initiated a thaw in this gridlock.
From my perspective, we did what we wanted to do. And that was to show that Congress should and can do its job.
Mr. Reed, your co-chair talked about getting over the hurdles, getting over some of the bumps in the road that have blocked an agreement.
From your perspective, from the Republicans' perspective, what were some of the toughest bumps to get over? What were some of the last sticking points to get over?
Rep. Tom Reed:
Well, obviously, when you're discussing state and local aid.
We had a great discussion. And one of the concerns was — is, when you look at how we broke that down. We looked at making sure that it covered actual expenses for past and future COVID-19-related expenses, that when you talked about lost revenue by our local and state governments, you talked about documented lost revenues as shown before the COVID-19 in comparison to where we're at as a result of COVID-19 impacts on state and local budgets.
And also recognizing, when we got these boosters and reducers, because it could be a $1.3 trillion deal if we get a vaccine, and if you get hospitalizations under control, and you don't see an outbreak of the virus going forward.
That got a lot of people going, now we're basing it not on politics, but based on conditions in reality, based on what is truly needed by the American people, not what's needed for political purposes.
And, Mr. Gottheimer, from the Democrats' point of view, what were some of the priorities that the Democrats in the caucus had to compromise on? What were some of the tough gives from the Democratic side?
Rep. Josh Gottheimer:
What we figured out was, if we shorten the timetable, and said, let's just get through the next inauguration, let's get help for food insecurity for those who — where we have got to help, let's get help to the state and local, let's get help for our schools.
And we all came together and said, we can agree to these things.
Now, as Tom just said, we put in these things called boosters and reducers. So, it's at 1.5 right now, but if the virus is still spreading the way it is today, and we don't have a vaccine that's widely distributed by March, which is why the package is called March to Common Ground, if, come March, we don't have that, boosters kick in and it becomes a $2 trillion package.
And, as Tom said, it also gets reduced if we are in a much better place. And that's where we started to really come together and said, we can meet our priorities. Let's stop fighting over the top-line number, which everyone keeps talking about. And we're really hoping our leadership and the White House and that everyone can come to the table and use the — our framework as a starting point, but just to get something done, so we can help people, because we can't go home.
Really, frankly, it's unconscionable to go home without helping folks.
Mr. Gottheimer, what does it say about the current situation, the fact that you have gotten millions of Americans hurting across the country financially, with — and also with the coronavirus itself, that is a group of relatively junior members who are sitting down, reaching across the aisle, while the leadership and the White House aren't talking?
Rep. Josh Gottheimer:
The 50 of us came together, and we have gotten to know each other over the last year.
As we spend time together, we don't just talk, but we listen to one another. And that's the best way to break a gridlock, right, by realizing, if you sit in the room together and you just keep working it — and we spent at least 100 hours on this just working it, the problem, over and over again — that you can get to success.
But you have to be willing to try. And so we're really encouraging all the leaders, if you just sit in the room and try — and we're happy to help in any way possible — that we can get this done. And I think we owe it to the American people to get it done.
Mr. Reed, same question to you.
From your perspective, what does this say, that it is a group of, as your colleague says, freshmen and lower-ranking members that are sitting down and doing this?
Rep. Tom Reed:
John, the common bond of the Problem Solvers Caucus — we have been around now four years — is that we are committed to putting America first.
We understand we're in a political town here in Washington, D.C., but, also, we are committed to respecting each other.
I'm a proud Republican. Josh is a proud Democrat. And every member of the Problem Solvers Caucus carries that with them. But we respect each other. We trust each other. We listen to each other.
And this is the only forum where this occurs. The Problem Solvers Caucus is about trust and respect, but being — and recognizing that we are Republicans, we are Democrats, but, at our heart, we're Americans first.
Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, Representative Tom Reed, Republican of New York, co-chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus, gentlemen, thank you very much.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer:
Thanks for having us.
Rep. Tom Reed:
Thank you, John.