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Schumer Floor Remarks On How Republicans’ Partisan Coronavirus Response Bill Fails To Meet The Needs Of The American People And Calling For Passage of the Save Our Stages Act

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor, calling on Republicans to understand the scale of the coronavirus economic and public health crisis and explaining how the Republicans’ proposal represents a step backward and fails to meet the needs of the American people. Senator Schumer also called for passage of the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Now, the amount of 1984-like doublespeak that comes out of the other side never ceases to amaze, and I guess it's becoming more and more extreme.

The Republican Leader calls his bill bipartisan. I would remind the Leader that bipartisan means two parties—Democrats and Republicans. His bill is only a product of the Republican side. The Republican Leader said Democrats are delaying things. Was it Democrats who called for a pause? Was it Democrats—when COVID was raging—who said we had to assess the situation? Oh, no, it was the Republican Leader who said those things.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House—supported by Democrats in the Senate—had passed a strong, comprehensive bill. We have just been waiting and waiting for our Republican friends to get their act together so they might come close—even near—coming to the moment that we need it.

So after taking a “pause” on COVID-relief for four months, finally, finally, finally Senate Republicans are realizing the damage their delay has done to our economy and the nation’s health.

Yesterday, Leader McConnell announced that by the end of the week, the Senate would vote on a new, slimmed-down version of an already “skinny” Republican bill.

We know what happened here. The Leader did nothing for months, but the American people are demanding action. Republican governors, local officials, hospitals, small businesses—everyone is demanding action. Restaurants, performance stages are demanding action. Not just of Democrats, but of both sides of the aisle. So the Leader had to do something.

At first, he tried to cobble together a legislative response, but it failed spectacularly. Leader McConnell was unable to bring it even forward for a vote. That happened a couple of weeks ago.

So now, he can't get the votes—because by his own admission 20 of his own members want no money voted in this crisis. How many Americans think there should be no money at the height of the greatest economic crisis we have had since the Depression, the height of the greatest health crisis we have had since the Spanish Flu? How many Americans think the federal government should do nothing? But a large chunk of the Republican caucus evidently seems to think that, by the Republican Leader's own admission. So he couldn't even get this trillion-dollar bill passed. It was pathetic.

So now, Republicans are going to cut their original, inadequate, $1 trillion bill in half in a desperate attempt to find the lowest common denominator among Republicans.

As the pain, the economic pain, for millions of Americans advances, Senate Republicans are actually moving backward.

Of course, up until now, the issue in our negotiations with the White House—where Leader McConnell has been absent—has been about the size and scope of the next relief bill.

Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill through the House over two months ago. Why? That's the need of America during this great crisis. We didn't come up with just any numbers. We studied it carefully. We talked to school administrators: what do you need? We talked to hospital administrators: what do you need? We talked to restaurants, we talked to performance places: what do you need? And we came up with a carefully thought-out bill that met the need.

Our Republican friends didn't meet the need. They came out with what they called a skinny bill at $1 trillion.  We all know why. The right-wing ideology that has so gripped so much of the Republican Party doesn't want to spend any money.

So we, at least, in an offer to compromise, offered to meet our Republican friends in the middle. They balked. No, no, no, they didn't want to compromise. Their way or no way.

And now, instead of improving their offer, Senate Republicans have made it stingier and even less appropriate to the looming crisis that we have.

I’m not sure what kind of negotiating strategy that is, but it sure isn’t serious strategy, and it sure won’t be successful. That’s why I called it cynical yesterday.

COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of American life. The needs in our country are so great, the pain felt by average Americans is severe. And yet, the new Republican proposal doesn’t include food assistance for people who can’t feed their kids, rental assistance for people who will be kicked out of their homes, aid to state and local governments desperate not to lay off, bus drivers, sanitation workers and firefighters. In their new bill, Republicans won’t even let states use existing funds to cover lost revenues.

It leaves out important worker protections, it leaves out hazard pay, it leaves out broadband so desperately need in rural areas, it leaves out funding for safe elections and help for the census.

It shortchanges our healthcare system and our education system. As schools years begin across the country, the new “emaciated” Republican bill basically makes funding for schools contingent upon reopening. So if you’re a school struggling with the costs of operating classes remotely; if you’re a school that would like to re-open, safely, but need help instituting new standards and protections, the GOP bill says “tough luck.”

President Donald Trump comes up with the idea that all schools must open, and our Republican colleagues in obeisance come up with a proposal that says to the millions of kids who will go to school remotely or in hybrid situations, we're going to make it much hard for you to get help.

That is to say nothing of the fact that the new Republican COVID bill is laden with poison pills designed to make passage impossible.

Someone looking at this would say, if they want to come to a compromise why would they put poison pills in the bill that they know are nonstarters to get a bipartisan compromise? Is it because they really don't want a bill, but a political issue—one that will ultimately backfire on them, I believe? Well, but they've done it.

There is a broad, corporate immunity that my colleague in Illinois has so focused on. An immunity provision that would protect corporations who put their workers in harm’s way from legal liability.

And, evidently, to get a handful of hard-right Senators who didn't want to spend any money, they added a partisan school choice program long sought by Secretary DeVos, hardly a friend of public education.

Republicans call their new bill “targeted,” but by almost every measure, it misses the mark.

It is impossible to look at the new GOP proposal as a serious effort at passing a law. It is impossible to look at this GOP proposal and not wonder, do our Republican friends see the damage in America? Are they still intent on playing these same games? Are they still trying to fool the American people by calling the harshly-partisan proposal bipartisan? As the Leader just did?

If Republicans were serious about achieving a result, they would have joined negotiations with Speaker Pelosi, me, and the White House. If Leader McConnell was so eager to get something done, why wasn’t he at the table for weeks?

Republicans could have encouraged the White House to improve their offer, to meet us in the middle, to help break the logjam. Where were the Republican senators? I haven’t heard a voice speak out and say we should meet in the middle. They’re all so afraid of what President Donald Trump might say I suppose.  

Leader McConnell instead crafted a partisan bill—no input from Democrats—even leaner and meaner than the previous Republican proposal, and will rush it to the floor two days after releasing it.

This is one of the most cynical moves by any Leader I’ve ever seen. This isn’t about making law, or working in good faith with the other party. Leader McConnell isn’t searching for bipartisan progress—he seems to be looking for political cover.

It won’t pass on Thursday, and we’ll be right back where we are today: needing our Republican colleagues to understand the gravity of the situation in our country, and work with us on a bill that actually makes some sense and deals with the magnitude of this awful crisis.

Now a final matter. The new Republican bill is silent on a whole host of crucial issues, including a number of items that affect small businesses.

Over the state work period, I visited several independent music and theatre venues that have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Live venues were some of the first to close, and they'll be the last to open up. Many of them are already on the brink of collapse. There's the rent, there's the utilities, an entire year without revenue. At live venues, by definition, people are close together, so they couldn’t continue during COVID. They have to wait until the very end. But they are so important to so many communities – urban, suburban, and rural. And unfortunately, According to one survey, 90% of independent venues report that they will have to close permanently without federal funding.

What an incredible shame that would be. These are indie music venues, jazz clubs, symphony orchestra halls, comedy clubs, even Broadway, which is made up of dozens of small theaters that employ thousands of workers, from the box office to backstage.

These independent venues provide 75% of all artists’ income, and they drive economic activity within our communities at restaurants, hotels, stores, and other establishments.

But what we risk if these venues close permanently isn't purely economic, although it is so important. I was in Albany and Syracuse yesterday. It’s estimated that the arts are one of the top five employers in both of those cities. We can’t afford to let this happen. Economically, we will lose thousands and thousands of jobs. Cities will lose city downtowns and rural areas, as well, will lose their vitality.

And the risks if these venues close permanently is not just economic. They are the very fabric of our society, which has been stretched to the breaking point by this crisis. Once this is all over, we will need these venues – and the passionate, inspiring artistic work that they help make possible – as we come together again and try to make sense of this incredibly difficult moment in our history.

So, we have a bipartisan bill, the Save Our Stages Act, that would create a new $10 billion Small Business Administration program to provide federal grants to live venue operators, so when, God willing, these live stages can re-open safely, these venues can come back bigger and better than ever. Those grants would go for six months, giving the venues enough time and breathing room to recuperate. And, God willing, if there’s a vaccine within six months, they will be able, God willing, to open again.

One of the most difficult parts of this pandemic has been the effect on American society, arts, and culture. These are the things we live for: sports, comedy, theater, music. And when the day finally comes when the pandemic is behind us, we will want to celebrate once again, with friends and families, at these venues that are now in danger of closing.

So I hope that we can come together in the future to pass the Save our Stages Act and save this essential part of American culture.