By Matt Murphy
FEB. 1, 2021…..As President Joe Biden prepares to meet Monday with a group of Republican senators to discuss a slimmed down COVID-19 stimulus package, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan said Monday that bipartisanship should take a back seat to getting people and businesses the relief they need.
Trahan spoke virtually to the New England Council on Monday from her home in Westford where she is quarantining after testing positive last week for COVID-19. Trahan said she contracted the virus despite being careful, including wearing two masks at times and changing her travel patterns to avoid crowded flights.
Her husband and daughters tested negative for the virus, and her dog, she said, has chosen to quarantine with her in a part of the house that had been reserved for her children’s remote learning.
On the heels of a $900 billion stimulus law approved in late December, Congress this week is expected to initiate a budget process that would allow it to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill with a simple majority. The process, known as reconciliation, would allow Democrats, who narrowly control both branches, to get around the filibuster in the Senate.
The package, in addition to billions of dollars for virus testing, vaccinations, stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, would send as much as $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, which was absent from the last relief bill signed by former President Donald Trump.
Gov. Charlie Baker filed a state budget last week that proposes to reduce overall state spending by $300 million and uses $1.6 billion from the state’s cash reserves, but the governor has said he could preserve some of the state’s “rainy day” fund if additional federal dollars arrive.
“Will we get everything in it across the finish line? I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is this is absolutely the right scale and shape to meet the gravity of this moment,” Trahan said.
Biden is expected to meet at 5 p.m. at the White House with a group of Republican senators, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who requested the meeting to discuss a $600 billion relief bill. Biden has talked a lot about trying to unify the country and about reaching across the aisle, though the White House has not said whether he would accept a smaller package.
“I’m all for having a conversation with Republicans over the package, and as far as I’m concerned Sen. Romney has demonstrated the kind of independent streak driven by principle rather than politics that earns him the benefit of the doubt, but there is zero chance that we in the House will allow the other party to delay us any longer,” Trahan said.
“The American people sent a clear message that the minimalist approach to relief is not sufficient,” she
Biden last Friday met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to discuss COVID-19 relief. He said that the lack of action by Congress would put not just the health of the American people, but the long-term health of the economy at risk.
“The notion here is the — we have to act now; there’s no time for any delay,” Biden said.
Trahan said Democrats must be prepared to use the reconciliation process to get a relief bill done if Republicans won’t support a plan similar to the president’s, and she will be voting this week by proxy through Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern as that process begins.
“I am optimistic of our chances to deliver relief in relatively short order to the American people just as they demanded we do when voting at the polls in November,” Trahan said.
As the new Congress begins, Trahan starts her second term with a new committee assignment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped Trahan to fill former Congressman Joe Kennedy’s seat on the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over everything from climate legislation to prescription drugs.
Trahan said she also hopes to work through the committee to hold “Big Tech” responsible for the rash of misinformation being spread online that she said contributed to the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
While Trahan said she still supports efforts to improve bipartisan relations in Congress, she said unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud leveled by some Republicans and the subsequent assault on the Capitol have strained Democrat-Republican relationships.
House Democrats, she said, are going to “take special care” in choosing Republicans they look to partner with on legislation. For her, that means one GOP lawmaker with whom she has partnered in the past is “squarely in the penalty box.”
Trahan didn’t initially name the congressman, but her staff later said she was referring to California Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who work with Trahan on funding for community health centers. Trahan’s office said LaMalfa “fanned the flames of insurrection” leading up to and on Jan. 6 and refused to wear a mask in the safe room where members of Congress were brought during the attack.
“We cannot allow the guise of bipartisanship to help launder the images of those who still to this day reject President Biden’s win, because letting them off the hook for their very real role in the insurrection that took place on Jan. 6 or giving them the space to continue being apologists simply cannot be an option,” Trahan said.
Trahan said Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has promoted fringe QAnon theories and denied events like the Parkland school shooting, doesn’t deserve to sit on the House Education and Labor Committee.
She also said she’s in no rush to work with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, with whom she served on the Armed Services Committee, but criticized for going to the floor of the House after the Capitol riot to falsely blame Antifa.
“That is exactly what we have to weed out of the Congress,” she said, referring to the spread of misinformation.
However, Trahan believes she will be able to reach across the aisle to work on lowering prescription drug costs as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
She also hopes to see the committee and Congress work to accelerate vaccine distribution and address the opioid and mental health crises that, in some cases, have been made worse by the pandemic.