How Did We Get Here?
Despite varying opinions of members in both parties, the Senate unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, 96-0, Wednesday night. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated she’s okay with the massive economic relief bill, House Democrats are threatening to torpedo the Senate’s progress by pursuing their ideological priorities in future rounds of relief.
For now, it appears America’s workers and businesses will soon receive much-needed relief as fresh evidence emerges that America is in a recession, courtesy of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Here’s where senators stand after days of intense negotiations:
- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
The healthcare and economic repercussions of COVID-19 put the shrewd majority leader under some of the most significant pressures of his decades-long career.
At times, McConnell couldn’t hide his frustration with Democrats, while Republicans fought to get $367 billion to small businesses and $130 billion to hospitals.
McConnell has consistently advocated for the legislation, calling it a “wartime level of investment.” The senator declared the bill would “help the people of this country weather this storm” with emergency provisions, including $1,200 government checks for individuals making under $75,000 a year and an extension of unemployment insurance.
Following the vote, McConnell released senators from Washington until April 20, though he is willing to recall them if needed.
- Assistant Leader John Cornyn (R-TX)
Cornyn couldn’t hide his anger at Democrats for holding up the coronavirus relief bill for political leverage, calling it “shameful” in an appearance on Fox & Friends.
Many Republicans were incensed by not only the obstruction of their original bipartisan-draft but also the proposal put forth by Speaker Pelosi, most of which had nothing to do with the pandemic, including strict emissions standards for airlines.
Eventually, the Senate came together. We hope the House has the foresight to do the same.
- Majority Whip Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo fought for the stimulus package, reiterating that it will help stem the economic impact of the coronavirus, particularly on distressed industries such as U.S. airlines.
The funding Crapo advocated for will be a boon not merely for airlines, but also hotel chains and energy companies. All of which have seen their stocks plummet in recent weeks.
- Conference Chair John Thune (R-SD)
Thune supports the unprecedented economic relief in the coronavirus aid package. The South Dakota senator also is a strong advocate for prioritizing health concerns over economic ones in the fight against COVID-19.
- Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Democrats slammed the first proposal by Sen. McConnell as a $500 billion slush fund. The Schumer-led opposition held up the bill until changes were made, including ideologically-driven provisions. Afterward, Schumer declared, “The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis. Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”
- Assistant Leader Patty Murray (D-WA)
Murray fueled the stalemate in the funding package after Schumer complained the original version of the bill did too much to bail out companies like Boeing and not enough to assist the American workers.
Stocks fell sharply after the legislative process jammed. Investors rightly believed the longer Washington dithered; the more severe the damage would be to the economy.
- Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Despite his initial reservations, Durbin praised the final version of the stimulus package, saying it “puts our hospitals and health care professionals first.”
The Illinois Democrat seemed satisfied with the comprise made possible by his GOP counterparts.
- Conference Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Just two days ago, Stabenow sparred with Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) over the agricultural and nutrition provisions in the stimulus package.
Kansas Republican Jerry Moran said that Democrats like Stabenow initially wanted to make sure the relief package did not spend all of the agricultural money on livestock (the cattle industry has lost between $7 billion and $9 billion over the past two months). The bill was revised to include funds for crops. Democrats later said they opposed the financial limits on the Commodity Credit Corporation, a line of credit established by the Agriculture Department, which can be used to help farmers that are struggling.
Stabenow also wanted an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. She relented after Sen. Thune finally said, “We just don’t have time to waste. This isn’t something that can be put off to another day.”
- Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Once leadership in both parties reached a deal Wednesday, the drive to vote on the bill nearly derailed as four conservative Republicans warned that the legislation could give workers in low-wage jobs incentives to stay unemployed instead of returning to work. The other senators involved in the effort were Rick Scott (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Tim Scott (R-SC).
However, they backed down after a vote to modify the provision failed, more concerned about the economy spiraling out of control.
- Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Johnson outlined his concerns with the stimulus package last Friday in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. His message was simple: while limiting the spread of coronavirus and helping laid-off workers was good, free money is not the answer.
The Wisconsin Republican explicitly opposed a multibillion-dollar package providing paid sick and family leave for Americans while simultaneously offering free testing for the coronavirus and strengthening unemployment insurance.
He proposed an alternative of getting cash to people unable to work for the time being by using state unemployment systems, with the federal government covering the cost of the supplemental benefits. Two Democrats supported the Johnson amendment (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona). Three Republicans opposed it (Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).
Ultimately, Johnson voted for the relief package without his changes.
- Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Throughout the debate over coronavirus relief, Senator Sanders was a consistent thorn in the side of Senate Republicans. A disagreement over unemployment insurance between Sanders and Republicans yesterday keep stocks from holding on to their earlier gains. The market had surged up to 6% by early Wednesday afternoon, only to recede after reports the stimulus bill faced more potential delays. Sanders’ obstinance came despite the bill having a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance.
Despite lambasting the legislation as “corporate welfare,” Sanders eventually relented, saying in an online video, “This stimulus package is obviously not a bill that I, or anyone in the progressive community, would have written. There is much in there that I dislike. Very much. And equally important, there is much that is not in it that should be in it.”
However, even he acknowledged that since Donald Trump is president and Republicans have a majority in the U.S. Senate, the vast majority of his ideas aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Although she voted for the coronavirus relief bill, Sen. Warren says it remains “insufficient” to respond to the pandemic.
“This is not the bill I wanted, but its immediate investments are vital,” the Massachusetts progressive tweeted late Wednesday night. “They are also insufficient. We will need to do more – and soon.”
Like Sanders, Warren is particularly concerned about the portion of the bill dedicated to big businesses affected by social distancing. Republicans mollified most Democrats after adding new accountability and transparency provisions in the final bill. For her part, Warren says the government must go further.
Here’s what the coronavirus lockdown means in each state: