Senate Approps. Vice Chair Leahy On Need For COVID Relief Bill

We are in the middle of a public health crisis, and the American people are hurting.  Nearly 190,000 people have died.  Millions have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.  People are being evicted from their homes and struggling to feed their families.  And the virus is still not under control. 

The need for another emergency funding bill to address the COVID crisis is clear.  Yet four weeks ago, the Trump administration and Senate Republican Leadership walked away from the negotiating table. 

Democrats offered compromise.  Republicans said, “my way or the highway” and left town.

And here we are four weeks later.  Across the country, families are sending their children back to school without the necessary resources to ensure they are safe.  Still more students are learning from home, often without reliable access to the Internet. Evictions are rising.  Families are struggling to find child care.  Unemployment remains at unacceptable levels. States are preparing for November’s elections without the resources they need to ensure people can safely vote.  The Postal Service needs a serious injection of funding to deliver mail in a timely manner.  Inaction has consequences. 

I’m here and ready to negotiate, just as I was four weeks ago.  But now Senator McConnell has announced he is preparing a so-called “skinny” COVID relief bill to put before the Senate.  Another “take it or leave it.”  No amendments.  No debate.  The proposal isn’t “skinny.” It’s anemic. 

While this bill has not been made public, details are beginning to emerge and based on what I have seen it is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the country.  In fact, it provides even less relief than the trillion dollar package the Trump administration put forward before the Senate adjourned last month.

I do not know where Republicans spent the last month, but while I was back home in Vermont, I became more convinced, not less, that we have dire needs in this country because of the coronavirus pandemic that we must address, and soon.  How any senator went back to his or her home state and returned convinced that even less assistance is needed than when we left last month is baffling to me.    

Adding insult to injury, the bill also provides sweeping liability shields for corporate bad actors who fail to do their part to keep consumers, employees, and patients safe. That tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of this Republican package: big corporations come ahead of struggling American families.   Instead of the person who is trying to pay their bills or send their children back to school, who’s making out in this bill?  The lobbyists for multi-billion dollar insurance companies.  They’re already making money.  They don’t have to worry about paying their bills  They don’t have to worry about their children going back to school.  They don’t have to worry about jobs.  Yet this bill gives them one more gift.  How can we say we support that and then go back home and say we are on the side of the people? 

If the Majority Leader wants to put this so-called “skinny bill” before the Chamber for a vote, do it the right way.  Set up a real debate on the bill, a debate that the country deserves.  Open it up to amendment.  No limits.  Let the process work. 

Let members raise issues important to their constituents and then vote on them: funding for state and local governments who are facing the brunt of the COVID response; money for schools so we can safely educate our nation’s children; rental assistance and eviction protections to help keep people in their homes; food assistance for hungry families; funding for our elections so we can ensure people can safely vote; big investments in testing and contact tracing.  Our economy will only make a comeback when the American people are confident that the virus is no longer a threat.  Senator McConnell’s “skinny” bill will not provide that confidence.  Put these issues up for a vote and let the American people see where each member of this chamber stands.  I know where I would stand.   

But the Majority Leader will not do that.  On many of these issues he knows he would lose.  A vote to move to this bill is just for show.  It will not provide us an opportunity for a real debate, and it does not solve the problems facing the country.  Show votes do nothing to combat the virus or give the American people the confidence to reopen the economy.

Absent a real debate in the Senate, which clearly the other side of the aisle is afraid of, Republicans must come back to the negotiating table.  Restart bipartisan, bicameral talks on a comprehensive COVID relief package that can pass both chambers. 

Senator McConnell says he wants to do this process piecemeal.  Pass a little bit now, and a little bit later.  But everyone knows the Majority leader plans to adjourn the Senate later this month to go home and campaign.  What he really aims to do is stage a show vote on a woefully inadequate bill that he knows can never become law and get out of dodge.  There is no real plan for action.  No real plan to pass a bill for the American people.  This is unacceptable. 

We only have a few weeks left before the Majority Leader intends to adjourn the Senate.  We are running out of time.  The American people need our help.  Let’s do our job.