U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark said Democrats will “continue to push” for the Senate to take up a version of the more than $3 trillion Heroes Act, but said the federal budget could be a vehicle for COVID-19 relief spending if that fails.
BOSTON — With states like Massachusetts still waiting for additional federal financial help, U.S Rep. Katherine Clark says Democrats could look to use the federal budget process to force more spending if they can’t reach a deal with Senate Republicans and the White House on a new stimulus bill.
Clark, a top-ranking Democrat in the House, said her party will “continue to push” for the Senate to take up a version of the more than $3 trillion Heroes Act, but said the federal budget could be a vehicle for COVID-19 relief spending if that fails.
“We know that the American people are depending on the federal government and Congress for the help that they need and they can’t do it alone,” said Clark, whose 5th Congressional District includes much of MetroWest. “And state and local government can’t do it alone.”
Clark, the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, took part in a conversation about the state of Congress on Thursday, sponsored by the Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and moderated by Kimberly Atkins, a senior opinion writer at The Boston Globe.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed doubts about reaching a deal on a new COVID-19 relief package when Congress returns from recess, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has continued to talk about the need for additional stimulus to help the economy.
While Democratic leaders have offered to reduce the size of the package to $2.2 trillion, Republicans were seeking closer to $1 trillion in spending, and now are reportedly eyeing an even smaller $500 billion bill.
“I am very confident in the Democrats compromising to be able to get relief,” Clark said. “The problem is, to be frank about it, there is nobody coming to the negotiating table with us.”
The White House in recent weeks has said Democrats have rejected their stimulus offers.
Massachusetts lawmakers still have not approved a budget for the fiscal year that began in July, and could be looking at a $6 billion revenue gap. The nation’s governors have requested $500 billion to stabilize state finances, and Gov. Charlie Baker has said that it’s imperative for Congress to do something to help.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that initial claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Aug. 29 fell by 130,000 to a seasonally adjusted 881,000, which some officials pointed to as a sign that the economy was slowly recovering. The department, however, reported that initial claims were up 460 to 18,054 in Massachusetts, where the unemployment rate has been among the highest in the country.
The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and Clark described the federal budget as “the one guarantee that we know the Senate will take up.”
“That is a must-pass piece of legislation, so I think over the next few weeks we’re going to see the intersection of that bill and how we get relief to our communities, our hospitals, how we invest in testing,” Clark said. She had also championed additional spending on day care and school safety for teachers and students returning to the classroom, and on food security for families impacted by the pandemic.
“They have to be passed,” Clark said of the appropriations bills. “And they may very well turn into the vehicle for relief.”