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Democratic Congresswoman On Why She Voted Against New Pandemic Relief Bill

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been more than half a year since the federal government delivered any kind of financial aid to Americans suffering because of the pandemic. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says any new relief package has to be comprehensive. President Trump says he wants to target specific industries, like the airlines. And Virginia Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is part of the Problem Solvers Caucus. They argue that both sides have been approaching this in the wrong way, that the focus should not be on the dollar amount but rather what needs to be funded - things like education and testing.

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER: You don't pass a bill and then try to negotiate, right? And that's what we have been attempting to do since May with no results for the American people. And so my priority and what I have been doing with many, many other colleagues in the House is saying, OK, you know, negotiations have broken down multiple times over. Let's talk about the programs that matter to people.

Let's not argue over a particular dollar amount. Let's look at the programs that are necessary to help people, to help small businesses, to help our communities and to help our economy and find out the place where we can create a new negotiated package for this fifth relief bill, and let's move forward with that. And, frankly, spending a day focused on a bill that we know will never deliver a dime of relief to the American people is not how I believe we should be spending our time.

CORNISH: At one point, we heard the president talking about this not really getting done until after the election. Got to ask about the political game here because it's looking like the lack of a deal, that the economic pain, is something that - are Democrats assuming will be pinned on President Trump?

SPANBERGER: The day any lawmaker is choosing whether to deliver relief to the American people because of the electoral benefit or harm that could cause is the day that lawmaker should consider a different line of work.

CORNISH: House Democrats are trying to push through support, in particular for state and local governments. This is part of the stalemate. And Republicans and the president saying, look - that's your problem; we don't need to do a spending package on that. But it seems as though these are the very things you're talking about need - that need to be addressed when you talk about education. This is stuff that would flow through state and local government. So why vote against it?

SPANBERGER: So I voted against a bill that was never going to become law. I have been an active advocate for state and local support. I have been an active advocate for direct support to schools, child care programs because it is necessary. And in our district, I represent 10 counties that are well-run, that are fiscally responsible, that have planned for their rainy day. But they need support because they've had to buy PPE. They need support because they've had to buy computers for students of all ages. They need support because they are encountering countless challenges that they could have never imagined or planned for.

CORNISH: But if that's at the heart of the stalemate, isn't that a problem? I mean, what I'm hearing from you is you have a bipartisan group of people who have a path forward, but what we see outward in the public is a stalemate between the White House and the House of Representatives in particular and Democrats. So what is the way forward? 'Cause I'm not seeing the path for your bipartisan group so far.

SPANBERGER: Yeah, the way forward is that we need people who are committed to negotiating a deal to remain committed to negotiating a deal. And it is as simple and as complicated as that. It is not enough to say, well, we can't find an agreement; therefore, we're going to stop. You know, if new voices need to come into the negotiations, then so be it. We should have all hands on deck in working to negotiate for the American people to deliver aid. I think it's important that people be willing to return to the table.

And we've now seen it. You know, we are rank-and-file members of Congress who got together and said, if conversations have stalled, we will help create a framework that ideally can get people back to the table. The important piece is working day in and day out to actually create and negotiate a deal that would deliver aid to the people who need it most.

CORNISH: That's Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

SPANBERGER: Thank you so much, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.