April 3, 2020
On April 2, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) announced the creation of a House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, charged with overseeing the unprecedented, multitrillion-dollar federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement on her website, the Speaker said the committee, which she characterized as “a special bipartisan oversight panel,” would be chaired by Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and would be dedicated to ensuring “that the over $2 trillion that Congress has dedicated to this battle–and any additional funds Congress provides in future legislation–are spent wisely and effectively.”
On a media call, Pelosi promised, “The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse; it will protect against price-gauging, profiteering and political favoritism. The fact is, we do need transparency and accountability,” The Hill reported.
Lawmakers have passed three relief packages to address fallout from the virus, The Hill said, with President Donald Trump signing a $2 trillion bill last week to send checks to many Americans; set up a $500 billion corporate liquidity fund; and provide $377 billion in aid to small businesses, among other provisions.
The aid package was designed to prop up an economy in free-fall, as markets have nose-dived, businesses have shuttered and millions of people have been asked to remain in their homes across the country.
Adding to the urgency, the news outlet noted, the Labor Department announced Thursday that a record 6.6 million workers applied for unemployment benefits in the last week alone—by far the highest number in the nation’s history.
While Congress included certain parameters in its emergency response designed to target the funding to the businesses and families most immediately affected, the speed with which the package was assembled—combined with the sheer size of the federal outlays—has given rise to plenty of concerns about fraud and misuse.
Pelosi said Thursday that the commission, which will be granted subpoena power, is designed to mitigate any “mischief” as the funds go out the door.
“We have no higher priority than making sure the money gets to … working families—struggling to pay rent and put food on the table—who need it most,” Pelosi stated on her website. The panel will root out waste, fraud, and abuse. It will protect against price gouging and profiteering. It will press to ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by the nation’s best health experts.”
Separately, The Hill reported, a pair of Democratic committee heads—Representatives Bennie Thompson (Mississippi) and Adam Schiff (California) — are pushing for the creation of an independent panel, modeled on the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the reasons the United States was so unprepared to cope with the coronavirus epidemic.
Pelosi said she supports such an after-action review, but emphasized that Clyburn’s commission has the more immediate task of monitoring the enormous allotments of federal relief to ensure it is going to the intended recipients.
“Is there need for an after-action review? Absolutely. And people are putting their proposals forward,” she said. “But I don’t want to wait for that, because we’re in the action right now.”
It’s unclear, The Hill noted, how many lawmakers will sit on the panel, or whether the idea will be embraced by Republicans, who are already accusing Democrats of launching politically motivated attacks against the president over the administration’s delayed response to the deadly virus.
Research contact: @thehill