December 2, 2021

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The left struggles in coronavirus fight

The coronavirus negotiations have been even more top-down than usual because lawmakers are spread across the country with a small group of leaders hammering out the details in Washington. And it’s even more difficult for the left to mobilize.

“This is just such a scary moment-to-moment crisis for people back in the states, including activists, that I think there’s a reluctance to wage big political fights right now,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Democrats have helped secure much-needed funding for testing and hospitals, as well as programs like nutritional assistance, temporary student loan relief and paid family leave. But the spending on safety net programs pales in comparison to other GOP-backed programs, including a $500 billion fund devoted to big corporations and distressed industries.

Many of the left’s top priorities have failed to be included in the nearly $3 trillion in relief passed so far. Outside groups were urging Democrats to vote down the latest bill.

Progressive caucus leaders say they are determined to have a louder voice in the upcoming coronavirus aid talks, particularly in the Democratic-led House. Progressive lawmakers — backed by an increasingly restive grassroots base — are pushing a list of even more sweeping programs to help the tens of millions people who have lost paychecks and the 1.1 million people who have fallen ill with the virus.

Among their ideas: free coronavirus treatment, paid family and sick leave for all workers, free protective equipment, halting evictions and foreclosures, and relieving student debt.

The most vocal liberals are vowing to push bold ideas to rescue the economy and the overwhelmed health system — what they call “the people’s bailout.”

“Each of us in the CPC are unapologetic in our wishes. We need to be even more unapologetic. We need to be even more emboldened. This is not the time to be incremental,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said during a recent Facebook Live event with progressive groups.

After going along with previous relief measures, Jayapal and her members have big expectations for the next bill. And Pelosi has privately said it could feature a major priority for the progressive caucus, according to people familiar with the discussions: a paycheck guarantee program. That bill, drafted by Jayapal and her Senate counterpart, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), would provide grants to businesses to pay 100 percent of worker salaries of up to $100,000 for three months.

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