Schumer Floor Remarks Outlining The Bipartisan Agreement On Coronavirus Response Legislation That Puts Workers And Public Health First

March 25, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, outlining the bipartisan agreement for coronavirus response legislation that puts workers and the health of the American people first. Senator Schumer also explained significant improvements made to the bill following bipartisan negotiations. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

I say to the American people, help is on the way. Big help, quick help. Because Democrats insisted on making this bill better, we can now call it a bill that puts workers first, not corporations, that has a Marshall Plan for hospitals, and that has accountability, transparency, and watchdogs over much of the lending that is in this bill.

Six days of shuttle diplomacy here, in these now mostly empty corridors, have shaped a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history, which was sealed last night a few minutes after one in the morning, when Leader McConnell and I came to the floor to announce we had an agreement.

It was is not a moment of celebration but rather one of necessity. Facing an unprecedented crisis, it was the duty of this Senate produce bipartisan legislation to send an immediate infusion of resources to help our public health systems, state and local governments, small businesses, and American workers.

As I said, from the start, Democrats had two main goals: a Marshall Plan for public health workers and hospitals on the front lines, and putting workers first—not corporations. Had we not asked for the Republican party to recognize us by not going forward on those first two votes, this bill would have been much worse. Our actions made it much better—not everything we wanted, but much, much better. And we're proud as a caucus—and united as a caucus—of the job we have done to improve this legislation. Because after all, this legislation will be with us not for days, not for weeks, not even for months—but probably for years. To improve this legislation, it was worth taking an extra day or two, after the Republican Leader put it down without consulting us and tried to say take it or leave it.

Like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect. But we believe the legislation has improved sufficiently to warrant its quick consideration and passage. Because many Democrats and Republicans were willing to do the serious and hard work, the bill is much better than where it started—and starting yesterday morning we all came together to get this bill done. We worked in a bipartisan way as this body should have worked and should work, and here we are.

Once the language is ready, Democrats are ready to speed up the consideration of the bill as much as possible. I expect that the Senate can get the job done in the next few hours.

Now, the American people watching should know what is in this bill, which has undergone many revisions over the past forty eight hours. Many of the programs and funding authorities that are being finalized as we speak will go to them, the American people, and could make the difference in the next few months between putting food on the table and going hungry, between surviving this period of unemployment and financial ruin.

So let me briefly run through the major components of this bill.

First, a Marshall Plan for the American medical system is now under way.

This agreement will inject $150 billion into our hospitals and health system, headlined by a $100 billion new fund to provide our health system with whatever it needs to fight back. The grants in that fund will be available to everyone who is fighting coronavirus – hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, and all types of Medicaid providers and safety net providers.

It also includes funding for personal protective equipment, testing supplies, a surge in our healthcare workforce, additional Medicare funding, research into coronavirus treatments and more. This funding will, literally, act as a lifeline as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.

So as I said, a Marshall Plan for the American medical system is now underway.

Second, workers first. Millions of workers, through no fault of their own, are now losing their paychecks with no way to cover their daily expenses and monthly bills. Coming to their rescue is a program Democrats devised to boost unemployment insurance. We call it unemployment insurance on steroids.

The agreement increases the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months. These benefits will be much easier to access and will be expanded to include part-time, self-employed, and gig-economy workers.

And the new program has a second purpose. The first job of this program, get money into the pockets of people who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, and it will come quickly and generously—but it has a second purpose. It will also allow companies to furlough workers so that they can stay on as employees, so that when, God willing, this crisis abates, they can quickly resume work with their employer and businesses can re-assemble. When this crisis is over, we don't want every worker losing their job to scatter to the winds and so many good businesses through no fault of their own will fall apart. By keeping them on furlough, paying them, the businesses can reassemble quickly.

This proposal—unemployment insurance on steroids—will be the greatest expansion of unemployment benefits in decades—a social safety net wide enough to catch the millions of American workers who became unemployed virtually overnight; woven with fibers strong enough to hold them through the worst of this crisis.

As I said, we are going to pass unemployment insurance on steroids.

Third, strict oversight, transparency and accountability of all loans made to corporations. The Republican bill initially put the focus on rescuing industry, and did not do enough to protect the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of workers those industries employ. But as a result of our negotiations, Democrats have secured crucial worker protections throughout the bill as conditions to rescuing large companies, including incentives for business to keep workers on the payroll during the crisis.

For the nearly 2 million airline employees, Democrats have also secured direct payroll payments to keep you on the job. Your collective bargaining rights will be protected. And airlines will not be allowed to spend any grant money on stock buybacks or CEO bonus pay for the life of the grant plus one year.

Democrats also secured tough new requirements on federal grants and loans to any industry:

  • No stock buybacks for the length of any loan provided by the Treasury plus one additional year.
  • Restrictions on any increases to executive compensation.
  • A requirement to protect collective bargaining agreements.
  • Democrats secured a prohibition on any Trump Organization business or any business controlled by other government leaders receiving a loan from this bill.
  • We compelled the creation of Treasury Department Special Inspector General to provide oversight of Treasury loans and investments, an accountability committee to protect taxpayer dollars, and a congressional oversight commission as well.
  • And there will be much needed transparency requirements as well. The Treasury Secretary must, by law, immediately make public the names and terms of loans or other assistance to corporate borrowers.

 

I believe it was Justice Brandeis who said ‘sunlight is the great disinfectant.’ If any of these loans look untoward, if any of these loans don't look right, if any of these loans shouldn’t go to where they’re going, the public, the Congress, will know quickly and that will put pressure on the Treasury Secretary not to do them, and certainly not to repeat them.

Fourth: resources for state, local, and tribal governments who are carrying the weight of their overburdened health networks on their budgets is there. This came down to the wire. Our Republican friends didn't want to do it, but I'm glad they acceded to our wishes here, because local governments are hurting. They are spending more money than they have ever spent, and at the same time their tax revenues have declined. And so we must help our local governments, and we will in this legislation, and it will be distributed between both the local government, the county governments, and the state.  

In the end, state and local governments will now get $150 billion, with $8 billion set aside for tribal governments. This relief is desperately needed because state revenues have dried up almost overnight, leaving them with untenable choices about how to allocate their health care and other resources.

Fifth, urgent help for small businesses. My dad was a small businessman, an exterminator. He used to pace the floor Sunday nights at 2 a.m. because he didn’t want to go to work. I know how small business people worry and suffer under normal times, let alone these difficult times. This bill offers $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses to keep their existing workforce and to help pay for things like rent, mortgage, and utilities. It provides $10 billion in emergency grants to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.

And of course, there are many more things besides this in the bill, those were the five we pushed for. Small business was much in the bill that Leader McConnell put forward. All the rest, we—as Democrats—have pushed hard for and gotten in the bill. Now, there are other things too: support for American families including child care, education, senior care, housing and more.

One thing of particular importance to my state is public transit. The MTA is drowning after such a steep and sudden loss of ridership. Democrats asked for, and now secured, a $25 billion life preserver to keep those public transit systems afloat as well. And it’s not just big cities, the bus systems in rural areas will depend on this as well.

The bottom line is this: this bipartisan agreement will provide more resources to our public health system and protect American workers of all stripes.

Now, as I said before, this bill is far from perfect. Many flaws remain, some serious. By no stretch of the imagination is this the bill Democrats would have written had we been in the majority.

If Democrats held the pen, we would have designed the assistance to troubled industries in a completely different way. We would have added even more support for Medicaid, hospitals, community health centers, and nursing homes, and new patient protections to ensure that everyone with coronavirus can access and afford treatment. We would have increased food assistance. We would have included more relief for student borrowers and prohibitions on evictions and foreclosures on Americans for the duration of the crisis. We have gotten many of those but not all, on evictions and foreclosures.

We would have put workers first in every single part of the bill. That’s what we tried to do here, as much as possible.

But Senate Democrats are not in the majority. We knew this bill had to pass muster with a Republican administration. And failure to reach an agreement, in this time of deepening national crisis, was not an option.

We have before us an imperfect bill but a necessary one. Despite its flaws, it is far better than where it started, and it is time to pass it.

Now, before I yield the floor, there are some people I have to recognize. The Republican chairs and Democratic Ranking members and their staffs who have worked diligently on this legislation. Sens. Leahy and Cardin and Shaheen and Warren and Reed and Peters and Wyden and so many more, I could name the whole caucus and their entire staffs. Thank you. This bill is better because of your long hours and hard work.

The floor staff who kept this chamber open and running at all hours: we thank you.

Secretary Mnuchin, Eric Ueland, Mark Meadows and their staff who have spent more time in my office than they’d care to admit: thank you.

Now to my staff: I am blessed with the greatest staff a Senator could have. They are so dedicated to the public good. They are so dedicated to this country, and you should have seen them working. Some—Gerry Petrella, Meghan Taira—have a little baby at home. Both of them have important roles in my staff, they met here and they got married, they’re still here. They were day-in-and-day out.

But so was everybody else. So was everybody else. I want to thank my staff, and if the American people saw the work you did, they’d be so proud.

Our colleagues and our staffs have committed themselves in this way because they understand the sacrifices being made by the American people in homes and hospitals across this great nation.

The working families who are at home, missing paychecks, acting as teacher and provider and caregiver all at once.

The thousands of Americans who are volunteering to help understaffed medical facilities.

The small business owners who are watching the labor of their lives evaporate in an instant, but are still paying their workers as much as they can manage.

The nurses and doctors and healthcare workers who know, better than anyone, the risks of contracting this disease by treating infected patients, but go to work every day, working longer shifts, to do God’s work anyway.

To them and to all Americans, I say this: help is on the way. Big help. Quick help.

We are going to take up and pass this bill to care for those who are now caring for us, and help carry millions of Americans through these dark times.

This is certainly not the end of our work here in Congress, but rather the end of the beginning. The crisis continues to deepen. There will be difficult days ahead and the worst may still be yet to come. And we certainly may have to come back and do further legislation, but we know right now: help is on the way.

And we will not stop working to see our nation through this time of extraordinary challenge.

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