Schumer Floor Remarks Providing Update On Coronavirus Response Legislation Negotiations; Schumer Outlines Democratic Priorities For Phase 3 Legislation

March 21, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor to provide an update on Coronavirus response legislation negotiations and outline Democratic priorities for Phase 3 legislation. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Negotiations on the third phase of coronavirus legislation went late into the night last night and continue through the day today. I have spoken to Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin several times, as well as President Trump, to keep them apprised as we continue to work through a number of issues.

In fact, I just has a very good, very detailed phone call with Secretary Mnuchin—or “Steve and Chuck” as he prefers to call it. We discussed many of the outstanding issues and we are making very good progress. I have every expectation that this progress will continue throughout the day.

Democratic negotiators will meet with their Republican counterparts throughout the day to continue hammering out the details. The Senate is here. We are working. And we are all eager to come to a bipartisan agreement as soon as humanly possible.

There are still a number of priorities that Democrats continue to fight for in the package that is now being assembled. As I’ve made clear, Democrats have two primary goals, broadly defined, in this next phase of coronavirus legislation.

One is to address the impending public health crisis head-on with a massive infusion of resources to our hospitals, our medical facilities, and our other public health infrastructure.

And the second priority is put workers first. In fact, our proposal, which we laid out as early as Monday, is entitled “Workers First.” Democrats want to do as much as possible to prepare our health care system, and we want to give the Americans who are most immediately affected by the economic slowdown ample relief so they can weather the storm over the long haul.

So on health care, Democrats are fighting for a Marshall Plan for our public health infrastructure. We need hundreds of billions of dollars for ventilators, testing equipment, gloves, masks, and PPE (personal protective equipment) for our front-line medical workers.

I spoke to the head of the nurses’ union in New York yesterday. They’re short of masks. These brave nurses are going to work, doing their job, but they don’t have the right equipment that they need. Money must go to our hospitals, and our nursing homes, our community health centers, our state and local governments. This cannot wait for a future bill, nor a supplemental package. We need it right now, not two weeks from now.

A senior doctor at Maimonides hospital in Brooklyn, New York wrote to me yesterday. Here’s what the doctor said: “I’m writing to you in a move of desperation. Currently, we have severe shortages in the basic necessities needed to fight the disease and protect health care workers. Disposable masks and gowns are in such short supply, we re-use them until they fall apart. We don’t have adequate supplies of supportive medicines. Beds, ventilators, nurses and critical care doctors are also needed. We need a national response to this disease.” 

I urge my colleagues to hear the urgency and strain in this brave doctor’s voice, the desperation in his warning. If we don’t provide these resources right now, what is already a dire situation will—not could—become catastrophic. It will affect hospitals everywhere: big city hospitals, medium-sized suburban hospitals, small rural hospitals. Many of them will go under in a short period of time. So we need a Marshall Plan for our public health infrastructure and it must be in this legislation in the opinion of the Democratic Caucus.

And, as we’ve made clear, from the beginning, we must also put workers first.

That means a dramatic expansion and reform of unemployment insurance; we need unemployment insurance on steroids. Some are calling it “employment insurance.” It must be easier to access. It must cover many more Americans during this crisis, including Americans who have non-traditional employment. And it must provide more generous benefits. Workers who are laid off should receive a paycheck equal to what they were receiving while employed. Workers must be protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large.

The plan we have would allow them to get unemployment insurance quickly. They would be furloughed so they would stay as employees, even though they weren’t working, of their employer. So when, God willing, this crisis ends, they can go back to their employer. And the businesses that are now closed and decimated can start running again. We propose that this be not just a one-shot deal, but a paycheck every work period. And it should go for as long as the crisis lasts. We want to fund it for at least four months, maybe six. If the crisis ends more quickly, of course, we might be able to terminate it. But we need to give the workers of America the assurance that they will have paychecks, the same amount of resources that they had before this crisis that they have now. And it will occur, ongoing, until we beat this horrible disease.

And there are other things we must do for American families as well.

We should greatly expand paid sick leave and family leave.

We need to expand food assistance. The kids who go to school get their best meals, many of them, at the school lunch or school breakfast. They need to be fed. And others who lose work may need food help right away.

I believe our students are under strain. Many of their colleges are gone. Those who have just gotten out of school have difficult employment possibilities. We should cancel student loan payments during the course of the crisis, both principal and interest. I spoke to the president about this yesterday. He said he was sympathetic. He said at the podium yesterday interest payments he would cancel, but I think we need to do more.

We also must rescue small and medium-sized businesses with a generous loan program so long as they protect their workers. They have other expenses. We will take care of their workers on the expanded unemployment program and on the small business program. But, they have other expenses. We don’t want them going under when these are good, ongoing businesses that did nothing wrong. They’ve got to come back. So small businesses really need help.

And, if we’re going to bail out any industry, particularly the big companies, we have to include strict conditions that put workers first. No layoffs. No salary cuts for workers or salary increases for corporate executives. Guarantees that workers be re-hired, at their previous wages, once the crisis abates. And no stock buybacks. I heard the president mention he’s against stock buybacks in the past, so when I called him yesterday I said, “Make it clear.” It’s not in the bill that’s been put before us, but Democrats will insist that it be in any proposal once we come together in a bipartisan way, as we are doing now.

Democrats have several other priorities as well, and we are working through each of them with our Republican colleagues, even as we speak. As I said, I had a very good conversation, won’t go too far, but I had a very good conversation with Secretary Mnuchin and we are making very good progress on many of the issues that we Democrats feel are important.

One other need, by the way, because we do have other needs, and that is, I want to emphasize, that, one of the issues that is quickly emerging is that state and local governments are running out of cash and may soon be broke. Governors, mayors, county executives, county officials, town officials—Democrat and Republican alike—are clamoring for help. We must provide it. They are on the front lines.

So, Mr. President, in conclusion, I have no illusions about the difficulty of putting together legislation this momentous in this short a period of time. But all parties are working in good faith and as fast as possible to see that we accomplish the task at hand.

Of course, far greater than our challenge here in Congress are the challenges that now confront the American people. Working families are at home without a paycheck or the knowledge of when the next one might arrive. Small businesses are watching the labor of their lives teeter on the brink of collapse. 

I spoke to a small business owner. He had spent eight years getting his business to be successful. It just had begun to be that way. And now his doors are closed, his employees are furloughed. We have to help people like that.

Our health care workers—men and women who perform extraordinarily difficult jobs even in ordinary times—are now asked to bear additional burdens. But know this, health care workers: you are our heroes. America stands with you. And Democrats are fighting to help every one of the emergency workers during this crisis.

So, to our health care workers, and to every American out there finding their way through these challenging times: stay strong. We are working to provide you the relief to see you through the crisis. We will get it done. Democrats, Republicans together. And once the scourge of this virus has passed, we will come back stronger and even more resilient.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt told a generation facing its own national crisis that “This great nation will endure as it [always] has endured, it will revive and it will prosper…[because there] is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

With wisdom, with courage, we will endeavor to finish the job here in Congress—whatever it takes.