Schumer Floor Remarks On Five Democratic Pillars For Upcoming Coronavirus Response LegislationMarch 19, 2020
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor after Senate Republicans introduced their coronavirus response plan, demanding that any bill put American workers first. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
I'm glad now that the Republican Leader and his caucus now have a plan, and we look forward to working with them to come up with a bipartisan product as soon as we can because this crisis grows worse every day. And we believe we need a bold plan, a strong plan. Our plan must put workers, the millions of workers who are adversely affected by this crisis, first. It includes service and industry workers, gig workers, freelancers, bartenders, retail workers, airline attendants, so many others. Our plan is entitled: “Workers First.” First and foremost. We owe so much gratitude to the hardworking people of America, and many of them are in trouble now, through no fault of their own.
This virus has affected some of them, has required others to be quarantined, and has caused businesses to lay off millions. We must protect them, first and foremost. And so our plan has five basic pillars.
Pillar one is to bolster the health care system dramatically. If we don't beat the fight against this virus, if we don't do it as quickly as possible, the economy will get worse and worse, no matter what we do, so we must work extremely quickly and massively to bolster our health care system.
We need a Marshall Plan for our health care system. And that is what we propose. We need direct aid to hospitals. The larger hospitals in many cities already have patients, many patients, in their beds. The smaller and rural hospitals could well be in danger of closing because of this crisis. We must bolster the hospitals. They need equipment. They need ventilators. They need more ICU beds. They need masks. A simple thing like a nose swab. A hospital told me they can't do testing because they don't have the nasal swabs. And we need the president to marshal the DPA, the Defense Production Act, to get all of these materials produced on a war-time footing quickly, dramatically, and in large number.
Our first plank of our plan dramatically bolsters our health care system which is being overwhelmed through no fault of the hardworking people there in this crisis, and it entails so much. Health care workers have to be able to get to the hospitals, to the nursing homes, to the other areas. In many places they can't if there isn't the kind of public transit that is available and is now not working.
The second part of our plan deals directly with those who have lost income through no fault of their own. It is a dramatic bolstering of unemployment insurance. We call it either unemployment insurance on steroids—we call it unemployment insurance on steroids—or you might even call it employment insurance. If a worker loses his or her job through no fault of their own, right now, unemployment insurance doesn't cover a whole lot of people. When it does, it doesn't pay them much in terms of salary, in terms of a percentage of income, and it's often hard to get and takes a long time. Our unemployment on steroids, our “employment insurance,” provides a full amount of the wages that workers are not being paid. Not 20% or 50%. People desperately need it. It is quick and easy to apply for, without all these hurdles that are now put in the way, and it applies to many more workers than in the past. We have talked to business owners, large, medium, and small. For many of them, this is the number-one thing they need. While they can't keep their workers on the payroll because no money is coming in, these workers will still be there. They'll be furloughed; they’ll be getting a full salary; and when the businesses come back, they will be back.
The third part of our plan is for paid leave. We must have paid family leave. We must have paid sick leave. COVID-2 did some of that. But too many people are not covered. And too many people are not covered in a strong, longer-term way. Senators Murray, Gillibrand, working with the House, have put together a very strong package. We must have it in this proposal.
Fourth, I believe—no one has seen the proposal, or I haven't seen, and I think anyone has seen the proposal that the Leader put on. It had virtually no input from Democrats. But we will look at it and read it tonight. But, from what I'm told, it provides a bailout for a number of industries.
Again, we have to put the workers first. We don't want these industries to go under, but we certainly don't want the dollars that are put there to go to corporate executives or shareholders. Again, they must go to the workers first. If they're getting a bailout, they should not cut the number of workers, the salary of workers, the benefits of workers, the pensions of workers. And none of this money should be used for corporate buybacks.
I am outraged that the airline industry in the last five years spent about $40 billion on buybacks. They're now saying they don't have enough money. Had they not sent the money to the shareholders and had it there, or used it to bolster their workforces, that might not have happened. Nor should the money go to corporate salaries or corporate gain.
Part four of our plan says: no bailout that goes to the people at the top; the money should go to the workers. After all, that's who we want to protect. Every one of us knows workers in these industries. They're hardworking, decent, honorable people.
And fifth—help for small business. Small businesses suffer. The little restaurant, maybe it's the small manufacturing business, maybe it is a little service business—they need help. Their employees, should they have to furlough them, will be taken care of by our employment insurance. But they still have other costs. We've called for forbearance in mortgages. That's a big cost that they will continue to maintain, if they rent space. But they will need help with other costs. And we provide the money for those costs with the view that that money, those loans, could be forgiven if they rehire all their workers once they're back on their feet.
So five points, and I know that the Speaker of the House agrees with these points. The House Democrats agree with these points. And, unfortunately, the Leader didn't want them included in negotiation, which can only prolong the length of time before we act.
One, a Marshall Plan for our health care system and our hospitals.
Two, employment insurance. You lose your job, you get your pay.
Three, paid leave, paid family leave, paid sick leave.
Four, any bailouts must be worker first.
And five, help for small business.
We need to act quickly. We need to act in a bipartisan way. I hope the discussions between the various members of the committee will proceed quickly and in a spirit of compromise. And I hope that we can come to quick agreement with the House, whose views are—the majority's views are much closer to ours than this document, which I haven't read, but I've heard things about. I haven't seen it. This is a crisis like none we have seen. We don't know how long it will last. We don't know how many people will be affected. We do know it is getting worse every day. And we know, also, that while Americans usually come together after a crisis—New Yorkers certainly do, as we did after 9/11—we now must be isolated. But we will prevail. We will prevail.
We will work together. Hopefully each side will give. We will come up with a good plan; we will send it to the president; and we will help to begin the long path to eradicate this awful virus that has so afflicted so many millions of Americans in one way or another.