Brown Urges Swift Action on ‘Big’ Coronavirus Relief

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Congress needs to move “as quickly as we can” on a coronavirus relief bill, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said.

Brown, D-Ohio, also cautioned against going too small in a relief package during a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon.

Prior to being sworn in Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that included additional stimulus payments for most Americans, enhanced unemployment benefits, rental assistance and an extension of the moratorium on evictions, more food aid, help for businesses, assistance to states and schools, and increases in the child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

“People voted by a margin of seven million votes for change in a different direction,” Brown said. There is no question that an “overwhelming majority of Americans” wants the federal government to move forward on COVID-19, he added.

The proposal is based on last year’s $2.2 trillion Cares Act, which Brown said at minimum kept 12 million Americans out of poverty.

“We will move forward on those things. Hopefully Republicans will want to join us,” Brown said. “This isn’t a question of sitting down and painstakingly negotiating things. This is a question of moving boldly to do the right thing to get the coronavirus behind us and rebuild this economy quickly, and that includes getting people back to school and getting people back to work.”

Through a spokeswoman, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, expressed hesitation about additional spending on coronavirus relief.

“While Rob is encouraged the incoming Biden administration is ready to hit the ground running, Congress just passed a $900 billion rescue package that is targeted to those who need it the most and designed to help our economy until vaccines are widely available,” Emmalee Cioffi said. “Only a portion of that assistance has been allocated thus far. The focus now should be on swiftly distributing the vaccines so that we can get our economy back on track.”

He did not rule out using the process known as reconciliation to overcome a prospective filibuster in the closely divided Senate rather than advancing legislation through regular order. The sooner action is taken the better, he asserted.

“I don’t care a lot about the process,” he said. “What I care about is getting help to the public as quickly as possible.”

Brown is requesting that the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extend the moratorium on evictions so they don’t take place in a pandemic in the middle of winter, and is asking for utility shutoffs to be paused as well. He emphasized the need for emergency rental assistance as well. “Landlords need to pay their bills, too,” he said.

In the wake of Biden’s decision to revoke the permit needed for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Brown stressed the need to address climate change.

“People in all parts of the state understand that climate change is real,” he said.

The decision was criticized by, among others, Portman, who called the project “an essential component” of America’s all-of-the-above energy strategy that uses all available sources of U.S. energy to enhance the nation’s energy security. He urged the administration to reconsider the decision.

“As the U.S. continues to struggle amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unfortunate that one of the Biden administration’s first actions will cost American jobs and hurt our economy,” he said. “The pipeline is creating thousands of good-paying union jobs, boosting our manufacturing sector, and strengthening our energy security in cooperation with Canada, one of our closest allies.”

Brown pointed to job creation in energy fields such as wind, solar and biomass and opportunities for employment with increased investment in infrastructure.

Though there is some funding for infrastructure in the initial COVID-19 relief proposal, the hope is that Congress could come back with a “really big infrastructure package” including investment in roads, bridges and rural broadband, Brown said. Done correctly, such a package could put “literally millions” of Americans to work.

“All this is based on how bipartisan this is, how much we can go back to the way the Senate used to operate, where we had hearings, we had markups in committee, we debated things on the floor and then we passed them” he said. “That’s not the way the Senate’s operated the last decade and I’m hopeful we restore that.”

Brown said he could not speak to what kind of bipartisan support there will be in the Senate when the House of Representatives delivers the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, who is accused of inciting a mob that later stormed the Capitol as Congress met to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier this week, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Trump “incited violence,” but Brown did not know what that meant in terms of how McConnell or his fellow Republicans would vote.

“There’s no reason this impeachment should take very long,” he said. “We’ve seen the evidence. We’ve heard the [Trump’s] speeches. We’ve heard Senator McConnell say he incited violence. We’ve seen the damage. … The evidence is clear so this trial can happen quickly.”

At the beginning of the call, Brown reflected on Wednesday’s inauguration, which he and his wife, columnist Connie Schultz, watched at home in Cleveland because she has asthma. The “upbeat” and “inspiring” ceremony, coming two weeks after the “insurrection” at the Capitol, showed “democracy prevailed,” he remarked.

He also noted the history made as Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president, an event his granddaughters and girls around the country watched.

“They saw there is no limit to their dreams. They saw that women belong in every room where decisions are made,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.