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Congress Still In Contentious Negotiations Over Coronavirus Relief


Eight million Americans have now been infected with the coronavirus. More than 12 million Americans are unemployed. State and local governments are running out of money, yet just weeks from Election Day, the U.S. Congress cannot agree on more relief for struggling citizens. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, doesn't want to go below $2.2 trillion in an aid bill. The Trump administration is offering a $1.8 trillion deal. The president says he might accept something even higher. But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is teeing up a more modest package at 500 billion.

Representative Ro Khanna of California joins us. He was a co-chair of Bernie Sanders' most recent presidential campaign and is the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Representative Khanna, thanks for being with us.

RO KHANNA: Scott, thank you for having me on.

SIMON: And you would like the speaker to compromise.

KHANNA: Yes, but I put the burden of action on Mitch McConnell. I mean, the president said that he could get Mitch McConnell on board. So what I don't understand is why he doesn't call up Mitch McConnell and, say, agree to whatever deal the speaker and Steve Mnuchin come to. And I think if Mitch McConnell were to say that, the whole thing would move.

SIMON: What are some of the points of contention that you see?

KHANNA: I think going forward, there are two areas where we need the administration to compromise. One is for children and for low-wealth individuals. The speaker has been pushing for a child tax credit expansion, for earned income tax credit expansion. The administration has resisted that. And the second area is on the state and local funding. The administration was at zero. The speaker has got them up to 300 billion. The speaker and the House caucus is at 430 billion. I think there has to be some compromise on that number.

SIMON: And yet, I mean, let me understand this plainly. You have said that you would want the speaker to go below $2.2 trillion if necessary.

KHANNA: I think we have to make a deal before the election. Now, I don't want to put out a number and prejudge the negotiation. And I certainly never said that she should accept the 1.8 offer. But I do think that every side has to be willing to compromise. And it's worth emphasizing that we passed - the House passed this five months ago. Until a few months ago, Larry Kudlow was saying that we don't need a stimulus, that the economy is fine.

SIMON: If Mitch McConnell were to include some Democratic priorities - let me put it that way - in an aid package that was not even 1.8, would you accept it? Because, you know, after all, that's money people need.

KHANNA: No, because what would likely happen then is he would have all the pro-business provisions in there, and we wouldn't get the rental assistance. We wouldn't get the aid for working families. We wouldn't get the aid for low wealth and the poor. And as it is, the bills of relief that have passed have been skewed towards businesses and towards financial institutions. So we have to make sure that this package helps those who need it the most.

SIMON: You were in the Commerce Department during the Obama administration. How much was that 2009 stimulus package?

KHANNA: That was, I think, around 720 billion. And it was probably half as much as we needed. I mean, usually, the mistake governments make that was made, if anything, in the Obama administration and all across Europe is that the governments did not do enough. And the reason is that if the government doesn't intervene, you have businesses that go under that will never recover. You have people who will be evicted, who will have insecurity for years to come. And so the intervention to prevent permanent damage to the economy is not just right on humanitarian grounds, it's also actually what's best for the long-term economic recovery. And that's why you have Jerome Powell, a conservative, making the case that we need to do something now for the sake of the economy.

SIMON: Representative Ro Khanna of California, thanks so much for being with us.

KHANNA: Scott, I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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