AOC: We need universal healthcare, basic income to fight coronavirus

The House of Representatives, however, has already prepared new legislation regarding coronavirus relief, voting in favor of the new measures on Thursday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing
(photo credit: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for the United States government to implement sweeping measures in order to stagger the effects of the coronavirus on the American public.
Ocasio-Cortez is proposing that the legislature expand its financial and health commitments to the American public during the upcoming months, which would include scaling up Medicare or Medicaid to cover all citizens, creating a universal basic income, limiting requirements for food-stamp assistance and temporarily suspending student debt collection.
"This is not the time for half measures. We need to take dramatic action now to stave off the worst public health & economic effects," AOC tweeted on Thursday. "That includes making moves on paid leave, debt relief, waiving work req's, guaranteeing healthcare, UBI, detention relief (pretrial, elderly, imm)."
The House of Representatives, however, has already prepared new legislation regarding coronavirus relief, passing the new measures on Thursday.
The Democrats bill would expand paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, funding for child nutrition,' and other food programs, and introduce other sweeping steps to address economic hardships that the outbreak could wreak on Americans.
But Republicans expressed doubts. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kicked off Thursday's Senate session by saying the bill was "an ideological wish list" that would create new, burdensome programs and regulations. Republicans have particularly voiced concerns over the extent of a paid leave program.
The new unemployment benefits would leave millions of contractors and tipped workers without relief, however, those who still hold their jobs but are losing normal income opportunities due to widespread coronavirus fears - a core reasoning behind Ocasio-Cortez's proposal of a universal basic income and increased commitments to food assistance programs.
The efforts may be too late, however, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that lawmakers and the White House have neared agreement on a legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying that she hopes to make an announcement on Friday.
Last week, Congress displayed unusual bipartisanship when it passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus response bill that attracted only a few 'no' votes. But this week, the poisonous partisan atmosphere was back, as the US government wrestled with responding to the biggest health crisis it has faced in years.
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have been frustrated that the United States was ill-prepared to conduct widespread testing for the coronavirus.
That was underscored early on Thursday when senators emerged from a closed briefing with top US health officials.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters that Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, estimated 70 million to 150 million people would contract the coronavirus in the United States.
Blumenthal said he thought the estimates were guesswork because of "insufficient testing" for the disease so far.
Republican Senator Mike Rounds said that health officials were having trouble giving them details on how many test kits were needed and "there was lots of frustration that we were not getting the numbers we were hoping to get."
Several senators also said there was an issue with the supply chain for items needed to administer the tests, such as cotton swabs and protective gloves.
Meanwhile, a crisis atmosphere enveloped the Capitol, where tourist visits were suspended at least until April 1 and at least two Senate offices were shuttered over worries about possible infections.
At a Senate Republican lunch, Senator Bill Cassidy, a medical doctor, told reporters that he argued for allowing senators to cast votes on legislation remotely in emergency situations, an idea congressional leaders have been resisting.
The urgency to act has been heightened by Congress's work schedule.
The House was aiming to start a recess at the end of the week, but the Senate intends to work next week on coronavirus legislation that would be different from a House version.
New legislation would be the second in two weeks, following last week's enactment of the $8.3 billion bill to help develop a coronavirus vaccine and finance steps to contain and treat COVID-19, the potentially fatal disease that the virus can cause.
McCarthy complained that it could take the Social Security Administration more than six months to get a paid sick leave program in the bill operating.

Reuters contributed to this report.