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San Francisco – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Ari Shapiro and Kelsey Snell on NPR’s All Things Considered for an interview to discuss the latest in the ongoing efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including the new bipartisan House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis and Congressional Democrats’ move to pass interim emergency coronavirus relief. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Ari Shapiro. Congress has barely begun to spend the record $2 trillion in relief money that were signed into law almost two weeks ago, and already there’s 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.
Speaker Pelosi. My pleasure, always. Thank you.
Ari Shapiro. We also have NPR Congressional Correspondent Kelsey Snell on the line to join in the questioning. And Kelsey why don’t you kick this off.
Kelsey Snell. 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?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let me say thank you for calling attention, 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 [billion]. We are very proud of the program: the Paycheck Protection Program that is there. Our Chair of the Small Business Committee, Nydia Velázquez, is an expert on all of this and made her imprint on so many things that affect small business in the legislation.
What we said – what I said to the Secretary is, ‘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 serve and many unbanked people who are under-banked are 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 – 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 inequalities in access to capital that exist in our economy at a time when we are addressing the coronavirus crisis.
Ari Shapiro. Madam Speaker, if I could ask you about the $2 trillion spending package that Congress passed almost two weeks ago. Some of the money has been slow to reach people. State governments are complaining they don’t have information they need to increase unemployment checks. Small businesses reporting problems applying for loans. No individual has 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 cash with people who need it?
Speaker Pelosi. No. I – 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 4th: 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 implied. All of it addressing the emergency. 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 are proud of that product. We turned it from a Republican, corporate, trickle-down bill to a workers-first, bubble up bill.
Ari Shapiro. But in terms of the actual infrastructure to get the money to the people who need it urgently?
Speaker Pelosi. That’s right and that’s what we’re encouraging the Administration to do. We passed the legislation. They need to implement the law.
The Secretary says that the checks will be there next week. We say to transfer them electronically. Don’t worry about putting them in the mail. Transfer them electronically. And they claim to us, and I believe them, that they are trying to do that. It won’t cover everybody and so they are 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 small – tens of millions of Americans could get the direct payment.
And we are proud of what we’ve got in the bill. We wanted more frankly for the direct payments, and that’s for the next bill.
Ari Shapiro. Well, as you know, states are already saying there’s not enough money to meet demand. Here’s Gavin Newsom from your state in an interview I did on this program yesterday: ‘We’re going to need substantial increase in a fourth stimulus, above and beyond what they’re currently 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.’ Madam Speaker how do you respond to that?
Speaker Pelosi. I think he’s absolutely right. In the bill that we just passed, the CARES bill, we had $200 billion. 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 the time, ‘This is a down-payment.’
And so that’s why, when they came back and asked for the $250, we said, ‘If you want to go to the Floors of the House and the Senate, then let’s go with $150 billion more for Senate – excuse me, for states and localities.’ We have to do that.
They don’t want to do that now and 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 the next couple of days, which hopefully we will, even at that we will need more in the CARES 2 legislation.
The states and localities are bearing a tremendous, tremendous burden in all in of this. And one of the things that I’m especially happy about that we will have in this next legislation is to compensate states and cities for what they have already spent, so there is a relationship to where the money goes as to where the challenge is very significantly.
Kelsey 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 are showing that people don’t want to see partisan fighting right now, and I wonder if you can address that in this package?
Speaker 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 have – will not get unanimous support in the Caucus 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 this program – that you want to participate in this 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, micro-lending, issues like that – that $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 toward direct grants to small business – $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, accept for $60 billion, which was saying, has to go to the under-banked or unbanked or however you want to term –
Ari Shapiro. Madam Speaker, these figures you’re listing off underscore that we’re talking about inconceivable sums of money that you’re turning over to the Executive Branch to distribute, and yesterday, the President fired the Inspector General who was chosen to give the spending some level of accountability. What are you and the Congress going to do about that?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, the point is, 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, ‘Well, we intend to do that. We’ll just make an announcement.’ No, that doesn’t count. We want it codified as to the –
Ari Shapiro. But as to the $2 trillion bill that was already passed, how do you impose accountability at this point?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I have put a Committee – you know we have several in the Committee – in the bill itself, we have the five member Committee that the 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 it. And that’s why I appointed the Committee to investigate – the committee for a the – to oversee the coronavirus challenge that we face. Mr. Clyburn is the Chair of that.
And that’s based on something Harry Truman did when he was a Senator in a Democratic Administration. He was a Senator, 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.
Kelsey Snell. Madam Speaker, on that, knowing that these huge bills, as Ari said, have a 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?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I think we have to what we need. 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 percent of the benefits going to the top one percent, with adding – with interest adding nearly $2 trillion to the deficit with no benefit for America’s working families.
Ari Shapiro. You’re talking about the tax cut there.
Speaker Pelosi. This is a similar amount of money, with a 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 will 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.
Ari Shapiro. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I’m afraid we have to leave it there, but thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate it.
Speaker Pelosi. Let me just say that, again, the bill the President put forth does not have enforcement.
Ari Shapiro. I’m afraid I’m going to end. That is Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Kelsey Snell, and this is NPR News.
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