Stimulus Bill Must Be Priority Over Campaigning, Bipartisan Members of Congress Tell House Leaders

A group of 34 Democratic and Republican representatives are pushing House leaders to keep members of Congress in Washington to work on a coronavirus relief package instead of letting them go back home to campaign for re-election.

The House is set to adjourn in October so some members can return to their districts for local work and to campaign ahead of the November 3 election. With talks on a new bill still at an impasse, the bipartisan group of legislators stressed in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy the importance of remaining in the Capitol until a deal is reached.

"We were elected to represent the best interests of our constituents and the country," the letter says. "Our constituents' expectations in the midst of the crisis are that we not only rise to the occasion and stay at the table until we have delivered the relief they so desperately need, but also that we set aside electoral politics and place the needs of the country before any one region, faction or political party."

At a time when businesses are closing, families are struggling to pay their bills and schools are trying to reopen, the legislators said, constituents don't want them campaigning.

Months after Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March with overwhelming bipartisan support, that unity has largely disappeared from Capitol Hill. Republicans charge that the Democrats are trying to push through a "wish list" of items under the guise of pandemic relief, while Democrats accuse the Republicans of not taking the economic crisis seriously and failing to recognize or provide the immense help people need.

pelosi mccarthy stimulus bipartisan
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly press briefing on September 18. On Tuesday, a group of 34 lawmakers sent a letter to House leaders urging them to keep the chamber in session until a deal is reached on coronavirus relief legislation. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

Both parties have put forth bills, one from the Democrats in May and the other from Republicans in July, only to be thwarted by the other side of the aisle. Democratic leaders and a team from the White House spent weeks attempting to bridge the gap in their differences, only to end up at a stalemate. While the two sides agree on some provisions, including another round of stimulus checks, talks have made little progress since they stalled in August, and the negotiators have yet to reach an agreement on a comprehensive package.

To "stay at the table," the bipartisan group of legislators said the House of Representatives must be in session. On September 15, Pelosi told the House Democratic Caucus, "We have to stay here until we have a bill." However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer foresees most lawmakers returning to their districts after the scheduled session ends on October 2 and being called back if a deal emerges.

"It tells members, 'Look, we know the election's coming up, we know you want to go back and campaign. But understand this is a priority,'" Hoyer said on a press call.

Another round of relief isn't just a priority but the "number one priority," according to the legislators' letter, and therefore Pelosi and McCarthy must keep the House in session.

Newsweek reached out to Pelosi and McCarthy for comment but did not receive responses in time for publication.

Among those who signed the bill were Representatives Tom Reed and Josh Gottheimer, co-chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Last week, the 50-member bipartisan caucus unveiled a framework for another relief package that combined Republican and Democratic positions. It includes funding for coronavirus testing, a federal unemployment benefit, another round of stimulus checks and aid and liability protection to businesses.

While the framework was an encouraging sign to the White House, chief of staff Mark Meadows said state and local aid remained a roadblock. The plan allocated $500 billion to such aid, an amount Meadows said was still too high, but he praised the inclusion of a provision that would reduce funding by $130 billion based on hospitalization metrics and vaccine progress.

With the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, the talks will be in even further disarray as the GOP-controlled Senate moves forward on bringing President Donald Trump's nominee to a vote. If the negotiations take a backseat to filling Ginsburg's seat, it's unlikely there will be another relief package before the election, and possibly not even before the end of the year.

"We recognize that we cannot dictate the actions of the Senate, but we can, in the People's House, continue to work to deliver actual relief to the American people," the 34 legislators wrote in their letter.