Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor Friday on behalf of her working-class district and struggling Americans across the country to call out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for sending members of the upper chamber home for Thanksgiving without striking a deal on coronavirus pandemic relief legislation.
The New York Democrat decided to rise and speak out, she said, because McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, “decided to break the Senate.”
“And he broke the Senate,” she said, “as there are thousands of people in Texas lined up for food lines. He broke the Senate while hospitals no longer have beds to house the sick.”
“He broke the Senate, and dismissed the Senate, while 30 million Americans are on the brink of eviction,” she continued. “He dismissed the Senate when every single day, when we go back to our communities, people are asking us, ‘Where is there going to be help? Is there going to be a second stimulus check? Are we going to get the resources that we need?”
Recognizing that Americans continue to grapple with the “extraordinary health and economic hardship of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the congresswoman emphasized that “in breaking the Senate, we are abandoning our people.”
Ocasio-Cortez noted that “Thanksgiving is around the corner, and there are millions of Americans that won’t be able to afford a meal to eat, that don’t know if they’ll be kicked out of their home, that are unsure if they’re going to have to quit their job to care for their child.”
The GOP-controlled Senate, she said, “abandoned them,” and “it is unconscionable, unconscionable leadership to abandon our people.”
The congresswoman highlighted how the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from March—the last relief measure that Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump agreed to approve—lifted out of poverty Americans who were trying to navigate the intertwined public health and economic crises.
In the nearly eight months since the president signed the CARES Act, Senate Republicans and the White House have refused to advance multiple relief measures passed by the Democrat-controlled House, even as benefits have expired and the pandemic has intensified.
As communities across the country are seeing infections surge, bodies piling up—the U.S. had recorded more than 11.85 million Covid-19 cases and nearly 254,000 deaths as of Friday—and millions of people are also enduring financial difficulties.
Citing recent data from the Census Bureau, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that less than half of Americans are confident they will be able to afford necessary food over the next four weeks.
While federal lawmakers are arguing about relief packages, “people are going hungry, and we are dismissing their needs as blue state needs or as bailouts depending on what party you voted for,” she said. “Hunger has no party. Illness has no party. And when we allow suffering to be alleviated or concentrated based on political affiliation, we are doing a disservice to our entire nation.”
Ocasio-Cortez also noted critiques of how the $4 trillion that the U.S. government has put toward the pandemic response has been spent. As the Washington Post reported last month:
[More] than half of that sum, roughly $2.3 trillion, has gone to businesses that in many cases didn’t need the help or weren’t required to show they used the taxpayer funds to keep workers on the job.
By contrast, about a fifth, $884 billion, went to help workers and families. And even less aimed at the health crisis itself, with 16% of the total going toward testing and tracing, vaccine development, and helping states provide care, among other health-related needs.
In her floor speech, Ocasio-Cortez responded to Republicans’ concerns about covering the costs of future relief for Americans by noting that when he “authorized a $4 trillion leveraged bailout for Wall Street in March,” McConnell “wasn’t concerned about, ‘How are we going to pay for that?'”
“It is only when we are talking about relief for working people, for children, for families, for parents, for education, for healthcare, that all of the sudden, we can’t pay for any of these things,” she said. “But when it comes to tax subsidies for private jets, we’ve got the money for that.”
ABC News reported late Thursday that Democratic aides said staffers of McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met earlier in the day “to discuss ways coronavirus relief could be tacked on to a must-pass spending bill that needs to clear both chambers of Congress by December 11 to avert a government shutdown.”
However, Republican aides told the outlet “that discussions between staffers Thursday were strictly about passing the omnibus spending bill—which would fund the government through next year—and were unrelated to any additional coronavirus relief.”