US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters during her weekly press conference at the US Capitol March 26, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Alex Edelman | AFP | Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday announced a new House select committee to oversee the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On a conference call with reporters, the California Democrat said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., will lead the panel. Pelosi said the committee, which will include Democrats and Republicans, will oversee the Trump administration’s handling of the $2 trillion relief package passed last week and the government’s ongoing response to the crisis.
“We face a deadly virus and a battered economy with millions of Americans suddenly out of work,” Pelosi said. “Congress has taken an important step in leading this crisis by passing three bills with over $2 trillion in emergency relief. We need to ensure those dollars are spent carefully and effectively.”
The speaker said the committee “will root out waste, fraud and abuse” and “protect against price-gouging, profiteering and political favoritism.” It will also try to ensure the U.S. response to the outbreak is “based on the best possible science” and the advice of leading health experts, Pelosi said.
Spokespeople for the White House and Treasury Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests to comment on the committee’s formation.
Pelosi announced the panel’s creation on a day the Labor Department reported that a staggering 6.6 million people filed unemployment claims last week as the outbreak ravages the economy. It brings the two-week total to about 10 million, an unprecedented figure as business grinds to a halt to slow COVID-19’s spread around the country.
The U.S. has more than 216,000 cases of the disease, the most in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 5,137 deaths have been linked to COVID-19 nationwide.
Congress will not return to Washington until April 20 at the earliest as the pandemic takes a dire toll. Pelosi has called to move forward with another relief bill shortly after lawmakers come back to the Capitol, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to first see how effective the earlier stimulus money is before making a decision.
The federal government faces a complicated task in quickly doling out the money appropriated to distressed individuals, small businesses, states and corporations. It will execute or help to oversee an estimated $300 billion in direct payments to households, $350 billion in loans to small firms, $500 billion in grants and loans for big business, states and municipalities and the state distribution of an extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance for workers displaced by the virus.
The half-trillion dollar pool of taxpayer money sparked the most concern among Democrats as lawmakers crafted the relief bill. Pelosi at one point called it a “slush fund.”
Congress eventually added an inspector general and congressional oversight posts to monitor how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin uses the money. The law also includes limits on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation for companies that receive taxpayer bailout money.
Even so, some Democrats have argued the legislation did not go far enough to ensure corporations would not disproportionately benefit from the government relief.
Since the bill passed, Democrats have also pushed the administration to help states expedite unemployment insurance as reports indicate their systems have struggled to keep up with the flood of applicants.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly decried Democratic oversight of his administration since the party regained control of the House in January 2019.