Senators explain opposition to Republican pandemic aid plan
Oregon's Democratic U.S. senators say they justified their opposition to a slimmed-down Republican plan for federal aid because it proposes too little for families, laid-off workers and schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan failed Thursday, Sept. 10, largely along party lines, because it did not reach the 60 votes required to advance it. The $500 billion plan was less than the $1 trillion initially put forth by Republican leaders last month. It's also far from the $3 trillion HEROES Act that the Democratic-led House passed May 15, although Democratic leaders say they are willing to come down to $2 trillion.
The GOP plan proposed $300-per-week in supplemental unemployment benefits — half the $600-per-week payments Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden secured in the CARES Act back in March. Those payments expired at the end of July.
It would continue federal aid for small businesses, set aside $105 billion for schools — less than the $175 billion Senate Democrats want — and provide a liability shield against COVID-19 lawsuits. But it omitted a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals and more aid to state and local governments, both of which were in the $2 trillion CARES Act.
Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley returned to Oregon on Friday, Sept. 11, to visit evacuation sites and hear about wildfire-fighting efforts.
Wyden said Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, is out of touch with what people need.
"His proposal is a huge gift to the big corporations that want liability relief, but it shortchanged working families," Wyden said Friday on a stop at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem.
"He did not realize that half of the unemployed people in a survey taken recently said they were having trouble making rent, paying for groceries and medicine. Somehow he thought he could bring everybody in (to the Senate) for a few hours and have a debate on a flawed bill. It was so skewed to his corporate friends that the country would react well to it. I don't think they are."
Merkley said McConnell's plan was a "political statement" offering cover for Republicans up for election in states where Democratic victories could flip the current Senate majority.
"It's been four months since the House passed a robust package of support (in the HEROES Act) for all aspects needed," Merkley told reporters in a conference call after the vote. "This (Senate GOP plan) isn't emaciated; it's a teeny response to the biggest set of health care and economic challenges we've had since the Spanish flu (1918) and the Great Depression.
"It is a complete abandonment of the American people."
On the 52-47 procedural vote, only Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky joined 46 Democrats and independents who vote with them, and all other Republicans stood with McConnell. The only senator absent was California's Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
The Senate vote throws into doubt whether Congress and President Donald Trump can agree on a new federal coronavirus aid plan before the Nov. 3 election.
NOTE: Adds identification of U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader in photo caption.
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