WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she will form a bipartisan select committee on the coronavirus crisis to oversee the spending of $2.3 trillion that Congress has approved to respond to the pandemic.
In a conference call with reporters, the Democratic House leader also said she believed the administration of Republican President Donald Trump was “more inclined to be supportive” than Senate Republican leaders of her push for infrastructure spending as part of a fourth major bill in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration have been clashing over how to implement the massive coronavirus rescue bill – the largest financial relief bill in U.S. history. When he signed the bill, Trump questioned whether he had to adhere to restrictions on his powers included in it.
Pelosi said lawmakers must ensure aid already approved gets to those who need it most, and a committee was needed to ensure fund “are spent wisely and effectively.”
The top House Republican, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, raised several objections to the idea of a select committee, including that it could not be created without a vote and Congress is out until April 20. “It raises questions to me, what the Speaker is trying to do with that,” McCarthy told reporters on a conference call.
McCarthy said there is already oversight from congressional committees and the new coronavirus laws.
Pelosi, whose party has enough votes in the House to create a select committee if it wants, said she also favored an “after action review” later to examine the handling of the pandemic, but the select committee will be for the “here and now.” It will have subpoena power, she said. “We want to make sure there are not exploiters out there… Where there is money there is also frequently mischief.”
Pelosi said she spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday about tax matters, but “they know that I want to go forward” on infrastructure spending.
“Whatever communication we need to move forward, that will be happening, whether I talk to the president or not,” said Pelosi, who has a strained relationship with Trump.
McCarthy said he was open to more infrastructure spending, but wanted to focus on implementing coronavirus-related legislation already passed before embarking on more.
Democrats have outlined a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure bill that would fund road repairs, water system improvements, broadband and other projects. They also want $10 billion for community health centers.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell)