Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate Republicans’ Refusal To Take The Serious Steps Needed To Confront The Coronavirus Pandemic Following The Worst Quarterly GDP Report On Record

July 30, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Senate Republicans’ refusal to take the serious steps needed to confront the economic and public health crises posed by the coronavirus pandemic following the report of the worst quarterly drop in GDP on record. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

As COVID-19 continues to spread through dozens of states, our country is dealing with multiple crises at the same time. Today, we learned that the most recent quarter was the worst on record for our economy.

The problem is not new or surprising. Millions of newly unemployed Americans cannot go back to work, cannot afford the rent, cannot put food on the table. Small businesses are waiting to see if the federal loan program that kept them alive will be renewed. Parents are worried sick about their kids returning to school in the fall. State, local, and tribal governments, who fought this disease on the front lines when the Trump Administration refused to give them help, are deep in the red and slashing public services, teachers, firefighters, and more.

And throughout America, people wait days and days—even weeks—for the results of their tests, rendering the tests almost useless because we don't have an adequate testing program at the national level.

This is the greatest public health crisis in a century, and the greatest economic challenge in at least seventy five years.

We need to confront all of these crises. Senate Republicans hardly want to address any of them. They dithered for months and then produced a half-baked, half-hearted proposal of half-measures—a proposal that their own caucus and their own president doesn’t fully support.

Just last night, the Republican leader confirmed that twenty Republican Senators want to do nothing in the face of the historic problems we face. And because Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together, two weeks now have gone down the drain, and three months before that, because the Republicans are wedded to a twisted ideology that the federal government shouldn’t help people, even in a time of national emergency.

As the country is about to careen over several cliffs as a result of the Republican delay, dithering, and disunity—our friends on the other side are scrambling.

It's dawning on them now—not a week ago, not three weeks ago, not two months ago—that we're facing a cliff on unemployment. Although we face cliffs on other issues, as well, right now.

Today, I understand that a few of my colleagues on the other side will ask the Senate to pass a reduction of the enhanced unemployment benefit from $600 a week to $200 a week, or even worse, a smaller percentage of a worker’s wage than Republicans proposed in their bill earlier this week. An already-stingy Republican proposal has gotten stingier as the week goes on.

I have made it very clear why the proposal by the Senator from Wisconsin is a terrible policy, for four main reasons.

First and most obviously, it would hurt the unemployed. 1.4 million Americans filed new claims for unemployment last week. The number is going up again. Our economy is still shedding jobs and Americans are losing their paycheck through no fault of their own. And Republicans want to take $1,600 out of their pockets every single month? Give people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own a 34% pay cut?

Shocking. Inhumane. Wrong.

Second, it would exacerbate poverty. Our enhanced unemployment benefits have prevented nearly 12 million Americans from slipping into poverty. Republicans want to slash and burn that poverty-preventing policy?

Let's have more people go into poverty. That's what this amendment would do.

Third, it would further devastate our economy. One of the few bright spots over the past few months has been consumer spending, in no small part because these unemployment benefits go to those Americans who need to spend it as soon as they get it. No wonder respected economic forecasters project that the Republican policy on unemployment insurance would cost us over a million jobs this year, and more than 3 million jobs next year.

And finally, we know that this policy is impossible to implement. When our office called state unemployment offices to ask them about the Republican proposal, they said the implementation would be a catastrophe. One office said simply: “this would cause chaos.”

So, this is not a serious proposal. We all know it will never pass the House and doesn't have enough votes to come close to passing in the Senate. Large numbers of Republicans will vote against it.  This effort appears to be an effort to provide Republicans some political cover because they can’t get their act together and forced the country over these cliffs.

We are trying to negotiate with the White House and would welcome negotiations with our Senate colleagues. But the reason negotiations are going nowhere right now is that Republicans are so divided, and no one is in charge. Who is leading this effort on the Republican side? Chief of Staff Meadows and Secretary Mnuchin? Is Senator Johnson and Senator Braun’s effort to pass reduced unemployment benefits a real offer from Republicans, or just a stunt?

Leader McConnell has said that Democrats won't engage. I would remind him he refuses to go into the room when Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Mnuchin, Chief of Staff Meadows and I sit in there. Once again, Senator McConnell engages in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ tactics and speeches and words. What he says is exactly the opposite of what is true. We're trying to negotiate. The Senate Republicans are not.

Next, it’s clear Senate Republicans don’t have a unified position on anything. The main thing we hear from Leader McConnell is that he would torpedo all the relief Americans are counting on unless there’s a giant corporate immunity provision attached, and he says he won't even negotiate on it.

Who's holding things up? Who is standing in the way? Leader McConnell and his Republican caucus certainly at the top of the list.

And President Trump is all over the lot. He himself called the Republican proposal in the Senate “semi-irrelevant.” When your own president says your proposal is semi irrelevant, as the president has  said to the Senate Republicans, you know that they are tied in a knot and can't get anything done. The president seems to endorse a different policy every time he finds a microphone.

The one thing we’re sure he supports is spending taxpayer dollars on a new FBI building to boost the value of his hotel. Yesterday, we learned that the President asked for nearly $400 million in renovations to the White House in the Republican COVID proposal. Seriously? The president proposes no help for Americans to stay in their houses, but wants them to fork over nearly $400 million to help him renovate the White House?

Simply put, negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans right now are like trying to nail jello to the wall. We are trying to work with our counterparts but it’s immensely frustrating to deal with a negotiating partner that can’t say what they support on nearly any issue.

Now we’re hearing that the president and his representatives have floated the idea of a “skinny” bill to address one program, to extend unemployment insurance at much lower rates which hurts the unemployed.

But while the nation waits, desperate for comprehensive relief, they leave everything else out.

What about improving testing where people have to wait in line, wait for hours and weeks, days and weeks to get their tests back?

What about helping state and local governments who have to lay off firefighters and bus drivers?

What about dealing with people who might be evicted?

What about dealing with people who can't feed their kids?

The list of issues goes on and on and on and they're all immediate and urgent.

So to have this bill, which is inadequate on unemployment benefits alone and cuts them to the bone--and not include any of the other issues--and hope to escape and then do nothing more? Forget it. Won't pass the Senate; won't pass the House. It's a stunt.

Even if the White House would agree on another extension of enhanced unemployment at its current level, which many if not most Senate Republicans have refused to support, there are too many things left out: opening up our schools safely, health care testing and reducing the wait to get test results, state and local governments, so much more.

And even if the White House finally comes around to the position that we should extend the moratorium on evictions, that would not be enough. It makes no sense to extend the moratorium on evictions without helping Americans actually afford the rent. We can prevent landlords or banks from kicking Americans out of their homes for another few months, but then what? The same Americans would be six months behind on the rent and have no hope of making up the difference.

So look, here’s where we are. Americans are worried as the pandemic rages on, the lifelines we passed here in Congress to protect families, small businesses, renters, school kids and so more are expiring and our Republican colleagues dither. We have a comprehensive bold proposal. They have virtually nothing.

Let’s remember recent history. Back in March and April, Republicans were late to the game and proposed stingy, insufficient legislation in response to COVID-19 just like they're doing now. Each time, Democrats were not bullied by Republicans into passing something that wouldn't work and be insufficient, but we demanded that our colleagues sit down with us and negotiate a bill that actually meets the needs of the Americans people.

And that’s what we did. And in the second, third and fourth phases of COVID-relief, our negotiations produced much better legislation—legislation that passed both Houses with near unanimity.

It’s never easy and it’s never painless, but it can be done. We just need our Republican colleagues to get their act together, roll up their sleeves, understand the gravity and depth and breadth of this problem, and negotiate with us in a serious way. 

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