House Democrats on Friday afternoon gave up on the effort to enact legislation to extend the federal eviction moratorium after failing to secure enough votes for passage, even as progressive lawmakers warned of the "death and suffering" that will likely result from millions of people losing their homes as the more dangerous Delta variant drives a resurgent Covid-19 pandemic.
"Extending the federal eviction moratorium as quickly as possible is the least we can do for those in our communities who need our help the most."
—Rep. Cori Bush
According to The Hill, two unnamed Democratic lawmakers said a possible Friday House floor vote on a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) that would extend the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction ban—which has been in effect since September and expires on Saturday—through the end of the year will not take place because, as one aide said, "we don't have the votes."
As the moratorium's expiration fast approached on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team were struggling to secure sufficient support for the bill "amid resistance from moderates and housing industry groups," the site reported.
The Hill continued:
House Democrats can currently only afford three defections and still pass bills on their own without any support from Republicans. Democratic sources said Friday they were short by more than a dozen votes, which proved to be insurmountable despite more than a day of persuasion attempts by party leaders.
Pelosi later proposed a compromise of only extending the eviction ban to October 18, in part to appease centrists who preferred ending the moratorium by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The October 18 date would also coincide with the end of the public health emergency declaration issued by the Biden administration.
Waters and Pelosi disagreed about whether lawmakers would vote on the bill—the former and progressives wanted a vote, while the latter was wary of the repercussions that the exposure of a "no" vote might bring.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but the effort was thwarted when Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) objected.
"I just thought we should've fought harder," Waters said following the defeat.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden urged Congress to act to extend the moratorium "without delay" before the measure expires and lawmakers adjourn for summer recess.
However, Pelosi suggested that Biden could order the CDC to prolong the eviction ban long enough for states and municipalities to distribute around $47 billion in federal rental assistance that largely has yet to reach tenants and landlords.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed the president's hands are tied by a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which right-wing Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that "clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary" for another extension.
Progressive Democratic lawmakers—who for months have been pushing for an extension of the moratorium—on Friday renewed calls to prolong the lifesaving measure. In a letter to her House colleagues, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who formerly lived in her car with her two babies, wrote that "we cannot in good conscience leave for August recess until the federal eviction moratorium has been extended."
Speaking with Bush outside the U.S. Capitol on Friday evening, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a video she posted on Instagram that "we're pretty pissed off" because "Congress decided to leave town" while "an estimated seven million Americans" could be at risk of eviction when the moratorium lapses.
"They didn't even try," Ocasio-Cortez said, noting that even if the effort to pass the extension bill by unanimous consent failed, "you can call a vote and make everybody put their name next to their stance."
"But because people are a little too afraid to actually communicate to the public what their stance is, people want to skip town and let this moratorium lift tomorrow," she said.
"And by the way, the White House is not innocent here either," Ocasio-Cortez continued, "because the White House had a month to let people know, and they just sent a little Post-It note... to Congress yesterday, knowing that the House was set to adjourn."
"We're here. We're not on a plane to Boca," she said. "We're here, because people need to be housed, and we need to do our job. And we're not leaving until this job is finished."
"The House... can actually vote remotely... due to Covid provisions, and they still refused," Ocasio-Cortez said of her Democratic colleagues. "What I'm not going to do is let... House Democrats hide and say that this is Republicans' fault. Because it's not.... We have a House majority right now. When Democrats have a majority, Democrats can pass laws that they really want to pass."
Amid the back-and-forth between the administration and Congress, an all-but-certainly deadly reality looms: According to recent survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.2 million people across the nation say they are very likely or somewhat likely to face an eviction or foreclosure in the near future. Some of them face the prospect of homelessness.
This, as the more transmissible, more potent Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has become the dominant strain in the United States and infections and hospitalizations surge amid persistent vaccine hesitancy. In March, epidemiologists at the University of California, Los Angeles published research (pdf) showing that unhoused people are up to 50% more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population.
"If Congress does not act now, the fallout of the eviction crisis will undoubtedly set us backwards as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravish our communities, needlessly contributing to more death and destruction," wrote Bush in her letter. "After the loss of nearly 600,000 Americans to this pandemic, lawmakers need to be held to the highest levels of accountability to enact legislation that protects human life."
"I know firsthand the trauma and devastation that comes with the violence of being evicted, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent this trauma from being inflicted on our neighbors and communities," Bush added. "Extending the federal eviction moratorium as quickly as possible is the least we can do for those in our communities who need our help the most."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.