Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For A Comprehensive, Bipartisan Proposal To Deal With The COVID Crisis And The Ways Senator McConnell’s Proposal Clearly Fails To Meet The Needs Of The American People After Months Of Delays

July 27, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the urgent need for a comprehensive, bipartisan proposal to address the COVID crisis and how Senator McConnell’s proposal unequivocally fails to meet the immediate needs of the American people. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Over the past several months, Senate Democrats have been appalled that our Republican colleagues have refused to work with us in any significant way to help defeat COVID-19 or provide relief to Americans during these unprecedented times.

We do not understand how, faced with the greatest economic threat in 75 years and the greatest public health threat in a century, the Senate Republican majority was content to do almost nothing for three long months, as more people died, more were thrown out of work, more small businesses went under.

Last week—finally—our Republican colleagues said they were coming out with a plan. But even after all the delay, even after Leader McConnell put the Senate on “pause” for three months, Senate Republicans and the White House were so unprepared and so divided that they couldn’t even agree on a proposal amongst themselves.

Ten weeks—ten weeks—after Democrats passed a comprehensive bill through the House, Senate Republicans couldn’t even agree on what to throw on the wall. Last week was a slow-motion legislative train wreck on the Republican side. It couldn’t have come at a worse time and it will cause immense and potentially irrevocable damage to our country.

Protections against evictions expired last week at a time when over 12 million Americans live in households that missed the rent payment last month. Enhanced unemployment benefits for 20-30 million Americans out of work expire this week without a proper solution. No matter what we do, states will not be able to quickly restart any enhanced unemployment benefit because Senate Republicans dithered for what seems like an eternity.

We are on the precipice of several cliffs for one reason, and one reason only: the White House and Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together wasted precious time.

These issues could have been solved months ago, but the lack of any urgency and understanding and empathy for people who need help from Senate Republicans has led us to a very precarious moment.

Today it seems, we may finally see the Republican proposal on the next phase of COVID-relief. Who knows if we’ll see legislative text or just an outline.

It also appears that the Republican proposal will not be an actual, coherent bill, but rather a series of small, piecemeal ideas.

That's a metaphor for their first 100 days: lack of unity. They can't even put one bill together, they are so divided. So a few Senators put in this one, a few Senators put in that one, a few Senators put in another one.

Not only do we not know if the president supports any of these proposals, we don’t even know if Senate Republicans fully support them! Yesterday, the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee said half of the Republican caucus will vote “no” on any additional stimulus.

The greatest crisis America has faced in close to a century on health, 75 years on the economy, and our Republican colleagues can't even agree among themselves about what to do and have put out a few piecemeal pieces that don't come close to doing the job.

We’ve waited months, months, for the Republican COVID-relief bill, and it turns out we won’t even get a bill and Republicans probably won’t support it.

Worse still, based on reports and Leader McConnell’s speech just now, the Republican legislative response to COVID-19 is totally inadequate.

It won’t include food assistance for hungry kids, kids whose parents can't feed them. They say no relief. How hard-hearted, how cruel. Is it that those wealthy, right-wing people, who don't want to pay any taxes, say kids shouldn't eat? Because the private sector ain't doing it; you need the government.

Hazard pay for essential workers, risking their lives for us. What about funding for state, local, or tribal governments? Their budgets are in the tank. We're approaching a new month. Many, many, many essential workers will be laid off—bus drivers and sanitation workers and firefighters.

The Republican “proposal” will ignore not one or two or three, but scores of major crises in America right now.

In addition, based on what the Leader has said, the Republican proposal won’t go nearly far enough, even in the pieces they try to do something with—the small number, the disparate number, the unaggregated number, since each piece seems to be separate, because they can't seem to get agreement among themselves.

When it comes to our schools, the Republican proposal does not provide enough resources for them to re-open safely. Major League Baseball, an organization with vastly more resources than an average school district, has taken great pains to restart its season safely. And yet we learned today that 13 players and staff on one team alone have contracted the coronavirus.

How can Republicans ask our schools to protect the safety of our children without the necessary resources or guidance when multi-billion dollar industries like baseball are having trouble doing it?

And are they just afraid of President Trump, who wants the schools to open without any help for his own—whatever is in his own head—which isn't about the safety of America? But the plan is totally inadequate.

It appears that Senate Republicans have finally come around to the fact that the Democratic position on extending the moratorium on evictions (or maybe just the moratorium on foreclosures)—we’ll see what’s in the proposal—they’ve come around to that. But they don’t support helping Americans actually afford the rent or their next mortgage payment.

That makes no sense. We can prevent landlords or banks from kicking Americans out of their homes for another six months, but what then? Those same Americans may be six months behind on their rent or mortgage. They will have no hope of making up the difference.

And what will the landlords do? Not all landlords are big companies. Some of them, just like in my neighborhood, are landlords of a two or three family house. If no one can pay the rent, that hurts them too. How are they going to pay for heat or electricity? 

It is essential that we do what's in the Democratic Heroes Act and provide money to pay the rent or the mortgages for those thrown out of work through no fault of their own, with no income.

The Heroes Act provides $100 billion to help renters pay the rent, $75 billion to help homeowners pay the mortgage.

The Heroes Act would help prevent another housing crisis in America. The Republican proposal, assuming they even address housing issues, would only delay a catastrophe for a few months.

And the greatest deficiency in the Republican proposal may be their plan for unemployment insurance. According to reports, the White House and Senate Republicans want to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits that Democrats secured in the CARES Act, but only provide a percentage of a worker’s former wage.

There are four reasons this is such a terrible policy.

First, it would hurt the unemployed. If you’ve lost your job through no fault on your own, Republicans want you to take a 30% pay cut.

Can you believe that? You’ve lost your job, you can’t get to work, the Administration has bungled this crisis—and now they want to take $1,600 out of your pocket every single month. Blaming the victim. Blaming the victim. Maybe again, because some of those Republican hard-right money people don’t want to pay taxes to help anybody, don’t want the federal government to help anybody. Let me tell you, my Republican friends, you can’t do this without the federal government and the federal government’s resources. The private sector can’t take care of this on its own. That’s one reason.

Second, it would exacerbate poverty. A recent study showed that the enhanced benefits have prevented 12 million Americans from slipping into poverty. It’s probably been the greatest anti-poverty program that we’ve had in a very, very long time. Why on earth would we slash and burn benefits keeping American families out of poverty?

Third, it will devastate our economy. One of the few things that has this economy not getting worse is that people have money in their pockets to buy goods. Consumer spending is going up. You know why, my Republican friends? In large part because of the generous benefit in the pandemic unemployment insurance. Mark Zandi, other great economists have said just that. Just that. Consumer purchases are helping the economy from getting worse. There’s money in the pockets of consumers to help them pay the bills and shop in stores and more. What do our Republican friends do? Cut the benefits to Americans who are spending the money as soon as they get it, taking one of the few policies stimulating the economy off the table.

That’s why an analysis from respected economic forecasters at Moody’s, hardly a political organization, says that reducing these benefits or letting them expire could cost over a million jobs, a million more jobs, this year.

And fourth and finally, the ideologues here get together and come up with a plan and it doesn’t work. It’s going to be impossible to implement. Republicans, at the last minute, while they waited and waited and waited—three weeks ago Speaker Pelosi and I wrote to Leader McConnell and said sit down and talk to us now, we heard nothing—so they waited and waited and waited until they’re up to the cliff, and now they come up with an entirely new system where states would have to calculate a different benefit for each individual worker.

Well the implementation will be a nightmare.

Let me read you—my office called some state unemployment offices about this Republican proposal.

A medium sized state on the west coast:  “It would take months. We don’t even have a way of calculating the wages of individuals. We’re not equipped to do anything but flat amount. Need a serious transition period. Even changing the dollar amount would take two to four weeks.” Two to four weeks where people have no money.

Another southeastern state, medium-sized again:  “Very difficult,” this state said. “We need public statements from the feds that people won’t be able to get benefits for many weeks or months. Need to be realistic so our offices aren’t overwhelmed. Even if you do a clean $600 you have to reapply in our state.”

A small state in the Northeast, these are workers, these are people in the governors’ offices or the unemployment offices. “Even clean extensions of FPUC”—that’s pandemic uninsurance—“will take weeks to implement. Can’t even speculate how long it would take to wage replacement. We will not have to reapply for clean $600, but it will take weeks to do retroactive payments.”

Three states – a very big state in the West, a big state in the Midwest, and a smaller state in the West: “It would take many months, this would cause chaos with our constituents.”

A Great Plains state:  “Two months minimum to implement.”

Big state in the northeast, smaller state in the West:  “Eight weeks or more to implement.”

Small state in the West:  “We have turned off the $600 FPUC effective benefit week ending July 25th per law. Any claims not decided prior to that date will still have benefit of the FPUC if found eligible. Any claims filed yesterday on forward would not. As options, another flat amount is best.”

Large state in the East:  “Extension of $600 could be seamless. A lower flat rate will take time. Percentage of wages impossible.”

Chaos. Chaos. You change the unemployment benefit, it’s going to take weeks if not months for most people to get it. The economy crashes, people are hurt, they get kicked out of their homes, they can’t feed their kids.

What are you doing?

The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, simply put, is unworkable. It will delay benefits for weeks if not months as we slide into a great degree of recession.

And by the way, the idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated. Most Americans are not going to quit their jobs, forgo benefits and a steady salary in order to receive temporary unemployment benefits. That’s what leading economists say. These benefits are a lifeline to tens of millions who want to work, are ready to work, but can’t find work because there aren’t jobs for them. The vast majority of these people don’t have a job to go to.

Let’s face it folks, our country is in the middle of multiple crises. Tens of millions of Americans are jobless; American families are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads; nearly 150,000 Americans have died—a stunning and heartbreaking loss of life. And in response, Senate Republicans have presented us with a half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal.

In short, the Republican plan is too little, too late. The Republican plan is weak tea, when our problems need a much stronger brew.

And incidentally, I heard Leader McConnell’s Alice-in-Wonderland interpretation of what happened in the last three months.

The first bill, he says, was the way we should go. Well let’s remember what happened. Republicans put their own bill on the floor, Democrats said no, and then finally Republicans came to the table, negotiated with us, and the bill is far more a Democratic bill than a Republican bill. Republicans know that and we know that.

On the other hand, the other alternative, which the Leader referred to as the JUSTICE Act, was totally partisan. Sometimes I’m amazed at the words the Republican Leader can use. He says he wants to be nonpartisan and says our bill is a socialist manifesto. Well which one is it? Which one is it?

Here’s what we should do: Republicans should scrap their approach. We don’t even know how many Republicans are for what pieces. They should use the Heroes Act, comprehensive, strong, and bold, for negotiations, and start talking with Democrats in a serious way about the real problems our country is facing.

Again, this is a serious, serious crisis. Biggest health crisis in a hundred years. Biggest economic crisis in 75 years. The Republican mantra “Let the private sector do it,” is just not going to work. You’ve got to understand, the times are different. The crisis is real. We need an active, bold series of government programs, not keep cutting and cutting and eliminating and eliminating, to solve our health problem and to get the economy out of the morass.

We Democrats have been waiting to negotiate with our Republican colleagues for more than two months. I am bitterly disappointed and frustrated by their delay and now by the inadequacy of their product. We need to immediately enter bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to develop a bill that actually matches the scale of the crisis and the needs of the American people.

Speaker Pelosi, this morning, called on Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, the representatives of the president to join me and her in the Speaker’s office half an hour after the Republican plan is released.

Republicans in the House and Senate must join us. We are running out of time, but Senate Republicans just ran down the clock and tossed an air ball.

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