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Why Mayor Lightfoot cannot rely on Congress to fill her budget gap for now, and what Speaker Pelosi has to say about it

Extending the $600 weekly federal jobless benefit, due to expire July 31, may be key in bringing Republicans to the table to negotiate over the HEROES Act.

Speaker Pelosi Holds Weekly News Conference
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that “public sentiment all over the country” will push Republicans to a Senate vote on the HEROES Act. Almost every cash-starved local government would benefit.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she needs Congress to ship cash to Chicago to help replace COVID-19 pandemic lost revenues, and I asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi how that’s going to work since the GOP-led Senate so far won’t take up the HEROES Act House Democrats passed last May with money for local governments.

Since a Senate vote on the HEROES Act is unlikely, “We have to change that reality. We have to change that reality,” Pelosi said, repeating for emphasis.

The Speaker commented during a Zoom interview with several columnists. That’s when I asked her about Lightfoot’s plea for more federal funds.

Because almost every cash-starved local government would benefit, Pelosi said “public sentiment all over the country” will push Republicans.

“This is not even a close call,” said Pelosi. Republicans “have to do this unless they want to say to their communities, ‘We don’t want you to have first responders, police and fire and the rest; we are going to have to fire people or going to raise taxes or some combination of both.”’

Let’s break down why Lightfoot for now cannot rely on Congress to help fill her estimated $700 million hole for the 2020 budget year and what else Pelosi has to say about it:

WHAT THE HOUSE DID: On May 15, the House passed, with only one GOP vote (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.), the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, known as the HEROES Act.

The highly partisan roll call makes it easy for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to sit on the legislation. To compare: the related Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, advanced through the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, and President Donald Trump signed it into law March 27.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: The city of Chicago; the state of Illinois; Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane and Will Counties all would get extra federal money to help pay for an assortment of public services. In all, some 2,904 state, city, village and township governments in Illinois would receive funds under the HEROES Act — from the city of Abingdon, near Peoria to Zuma Township in Rock Island County. That’s no matter if Republicans or Democrats lead these local governments.

PELOSI’S TAKE ON POLICE DEFUNDING: It’s the Republicans who are defunding the police because the HEROES Act would help local governments pay police salaries. Said Pelosi, “When you talk about defunding the police — you already voted against the funding of police when you voted against the HEROES Act.”

BY THE WAY, WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU: The CARES Act saved many jobless individuals from financial disaster with a $600-a-week payment coming on top of state jobless benefits. The $600 is paid for by the federal government. That extra cash ends July 31.

Among other items, the HEROES Act extends the weekly $600 federal payments for the unemployed through Jan. 31.

ABOUT LOST REVENUE: The HEROES Act money would help replace revenue lost related to the COVID-19 economic meltdown. In Chicago, that would be taxes on sales, hotels, parking, restaurants and amusements. Many Chicago-area suburbs are taking a big hit on sales taxes.

CARES ACT MONEY FOR CHICAGO: You may have read last week about Lightfoot and her proposals to spend $1.13 billion the CARES Act sent to Chicago. The grant money came with a catch — it had to be used on items directly connected to the city’s COVID-19 response.

TIMING: It is highly unlike McConnell would deal with the HEROES Act before the Senate takes off for the July 4 recess, not returning until mid-July.

VOTE BY MAIL POLITICS: Democrats put in the HEROES Act requirements to encourage voting by mail in the November election. Trump is waging a war against mail ballots on the unproven grounds they lead to substantial fraud. That provision is a poison pill in the bill.

OTHER POLITICS: There is also money in the HEROES Act for the struggling U.S. Postal Service Trump is opposed to helping. Some Republicans – including in Illinois – see HEROES Act funding as a bailout for out-of-control spending by Democrats running state and local governments.

PREDICTION: The looming end of the $600 weekly jobless benefits is the linchpin to a deal, key to getting the Senate to even consider the federal boost Lightfoot needs.

Pelosi seeks to break the McConnell blockade and force him to the bargaining table through pressure on about 20 GOP senators. The July 31 deadline will force McConnell to negotiate. Trump and McConnell don’t want to run for reelection with still jobless Republicans driven into ruin because the $600 payments ended. Said Pelosi, “I don’t see how that flies.”