Senators Look to Move on 3rd Coronavirus Package

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are ready to move forward with a third package to address the coronavirus outbreak following passage of a second Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved March 14. The legislation, which followed passage March 6 of $8.3 billion in emergency spending, provides free coronavirus testing, access to paid sick leave and paid family leave, food assistance, increased Medicaid funding and enhanced unemployment insurance. 

The legislation headed to President Donald Trump for his signature. 

“We must continue to act with urgency to protect our economy, and there is still more work to do. Applications for unemployment in Ohio have jumped from 6,500 last week to more than 70,000 in the first two days of this week alone,” Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement issued by his office. “We must provide resources so that families and businesses across the country can stay afloat during this crisis so that we can get our economy back to full strength as soon as the crisis is over.” 

Portman said he is working with his Senate colleagues to provide broader relief for individuals and businesses that will be included in a Phase 3 package the body is assembling. 

“The Senate must stay in session until we pass another robust economic package to help workers, families, and our economy,” he said. 

“The best thing we can do for our economy is get this pandemic under control,”said Brown, D-Ohio. “The second is you don’t do corporate bailouts. You invest in the dignity of work.” 

Any relief package needs to be focused on keeping paychecks going to “real people,” he said, and not provide money for stock buybacks by corporations, have provisions that send jobs overseas or to independent contractors or provide for executive bonuses.  

Among the elements of the package being discussed in Congress is providing cash payments to Americans below a defined income level. 

The proposed cash benefit was among several coronavirus-related topics Brown discussed on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. 

Several Democratic senators, including Brown, have proposed a $2,000 payment for every eligible adult and child, followed by a second payment of $1,500 in July if the public health emergency is still active. 

Brown also called for expanding unemployment benefits and the earned income tax credit, and a moratorium on foreclosures, as well as providing help for homeowners. 

“If we don’t do all of that, we’ve not done our jobs here,” he said. 

During the call, Brown was critical of the general response by Trump and the Senate’s Republican leadership, though he said he was pleased with the president’s decision to deploy the Defense Production Act, which he learned about during the call.

Invoking the act, which would encourage companies to manufacture protective gear and equipment needed by health-care professionals in the effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak, was a step Brown and other Senate Democrats had urged the president to take in a letter Tuesday.

Brown criticized Trump for actions including the elimination of an office within the National Security Council that focused on pandemic preparedness and Republicans lawmakers more broadly for reducing funding for public health over the past decade. 

“We have a president who blamed everybody but himself,” Brown said. “He acted like he didn’t know that office was done away with, and then he blamed it on his administration, not on his lack of leadership and his wrongheadedness in this case.” 

In addition, he questioned the decision of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to send the Senate home last week rather than take up the coronavirus relief legislation being debated in the House. 

“People are hurting, people are afraid, people are angry and people don’t know who to turn to” because Trump and Republican leaders haven’t done their jobs, he said. Every day Americans are made to wait for action is another day they are forced to decide whether to go to work sick – risking getting sicker and potentially infecting their coworkers – and staying home and losing that day’s pay. 

“We are still forcing people to make that decision. It’s just morally reprehensible,” he said. 

Brown said he hoped to see a package approved by next week. “I don’t want to raise anybody’s expectations, but the earlier the better,” he said. 

He contrasted Trump’s performance with those of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health. Both have earned widespread, bipartisan praise for Ohio’s response to the pandemic.   

Even so, Brown acknowledged he had “mixed feelings” about the decision to postpone Ohio’s primary election, which was to be held Tuesday. The issue begged the question of shifting to voting by mail nationwide, he said. He didn’t question the decision but wished that it had been made sooner.

“I hated he had to do it,” Brown said. “He’s in the arena doing this; I’m not.”

His concern was another governor – or event the president – might request a delay in the November election. “We can’t let this be a precedent,” he said.

That earned him a sharp rebuke from Jane Timken, chairwoman of the Oho Republican Party. 

“This dangerous language in a time of a national emergency should not be tolerated,” Timken said. “President Trump and Governor DeWine are focused on real solutions to flattening the spread of this catastrophic virus. Sherrod needs to do the same.”

Pictured: Police officers stand outside the U.S. Senate steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 16, 2020. Congress has shut the Capitol and all Senate and House office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.