WASHINGTON, D.C. — As congressional leaders ramp up negotiations for what to include in the next covid-19 relief package, the two leading candidates for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District have priorities of their own.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Carolyn Long highlighted what they believe the upcoming stimulus package should address to help Southwest Washington residents, businesses and services. None of the other three candidates ahead of the Aug. 4 primary have reported raising any campaign funds with the Federal Election Commission.
A key point of contention between the two parties in Congress is shaping up to include whether to extend the federal unemployment insurance program at $600 per week, set to expire in July. Options on the table include extending the program at its current weekly rate, extending the program but cutting the rate, or allowing the program to expire without an extension at all.
Herrera Beutler’s communications director, Craig Wheeler, said the congresswoman is waiting for congressional leadership to release the particulars of the next package before committing one way or the other. Long’s campaign says she supports the extension of the unemployment insurance program.
Herrera Beutler focuses on hospital funding, child care
In a letter to congressional leaders in April, Herrera Beutler and 33 other House Republicans called for the next covid-19 spending package to give the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) flexibility to forgive accelerated Medicare payments that hospitals received in the previous covid-19 relief package in March.
Ocean Beach Hospital was one of the hospitals to receive an early Medicare payment, totaling $7.72 million. Under the proposal from Herrera Beutler and her colleagues, CMS would have the ability to forgive the accelerated payment if a hospital “can demonstrate that repayment will cause the facility significant financial hardship.”
In addressing child care, Herrera Beutler pointed to bipartisan pre-pandemic legislation she has supported that she believes should be considered in covid-19 relief packages.
One such bill is the Advancing Support For Working Families Act, which was introduced last December and would give new parents the option of receiving up to $5,000 following the birth or adoption of a child through the Child Tax Credit. The amount would be repaid by families taking a $500 reduction from future annual child tax credits over the following 10 years.
“As a parent of an infant, I know the added cost families face in the first year following birth. Being able to receive financial support after the birth or adoption of a child can make all the difference in the world to a new parent, especially working parents who may not get paid leave,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release when the bill was introduced in December.
The bill was also introduced in the U.S. Senate at the time, but has been in limbo since the coronavirus pandemic began. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who sponsored the bill, is pushing to get the plan included in the upcoming stimulus package as a five-year pilot program.
In April, Herrera Beutler and Washington’s seven Democratic members of the U.S. House sent a letter to House leadership asking for the next relief package to address broadband access for students across the state. The letter calls for sending local education agencies additional funds to help connect students to the internet, as well as increasing funding for existing federal programs that aim to expand broadband coverage in rural communities.
Long hones in on health care
For Long, a substantial portion of the covid-19 response should be centered around ensuring affordable, widespread access to health care and protecting those with pre-existing conditions, which her campaign says Herrera Beutler has not adequately supported in Congress.
The campaign pointed to Herrera Beutler’s vote against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act on June 29, a bill that passed the House mostly along party lines. Among other things, the bill would expand eligibility for premium tax credits beyond the current limit of 400% of the federal poverty line, making more Americans eligible to receive subsidized private insurance. It would be paid for by allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prices of prescription drugs with manufacturers.
“This pandemic has made it more urgent than ever for us to protect and expand access to quality, affordable health care for the people in our communities,” Long said in a press release following the passage of the bill in June.
Long’s campaign also highlighted Herrera Beutler’s vote in April 2019 not to condemn the Trump Administration’s ongoing lawsuit to throw out the Affordable Care Act. Eight Republicans joined Democrats to condemn the lawsuit, but Herrera Beutler — who was one of 20 Republicans to vote against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017 — was not one of them.
Access to child care during the pandemic that is both high quality and affordable is also essential, according to Long’s campaign, along with increasing federal funding for school districts for the purpose of increasing broadband access for students if classes aren’t able to fully reopen this fall. The campaign also calls for an increase in state and local funding, another key point of contention between the parties in Congress.
With the return to school on the nation’s collective mind, the campaign also highlighted a federal rule set to expire that allowed most families to pick up free meals from a nearby school without needing to prove they were low income. According to Politico, the United States Department of Agriculture has yet to issue an extension of the program for the new school year, and national school leaders are now asking Congress to support legislation in a covid-19 relief package.