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Alexander to Senate Democrats: This Is No Time to Be Running a Political Campaign

Says there is “no excuse” for blocking debate on legislation that will generate trillions in economic support to help keep employees on payrolls, relieve Americans’ financial burden while containing COVID-19

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2020 — "This is no time to be running a political campaign," U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today on the Senate floor as Democrats block legislation that will generate trillions in economic support to help keep employees on payrolls and to relieve Tennesseans’ – and all Americans' – financial burden while containing COVID-19. As chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Alexander has been negotiating with his Democrat counterpart, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) since Friday

Here is a transcript of Alexander’s full remarks on the Senate floor:

“As the majority leader said, all this vote is about is shall we get on the bill? Can we debate the issue? Can we together decide what to do about what is the most significant health care crisis in a century?

“We are saying yes. They are saying no.

“As far as the distinguished senator from West Virginia says, ‘What about the people who need help?’

“I have a friend who e-mailed me last night and says, ‘It’s too late, I'm closing five small businesses.’ These are little businesses.

“Well, why did we not vote last night on this because in this bill is the proposal by Senator Collins, Senator Cardin, a Democrat, Senator Rubio, a Republican, Senator Shaheen, a Democrat, that would loan to small businesses of less than 500 people, money so they could pay their employees in West Virginia and Tennessee, and then if they did that, that would be forgiven. In other words, it's a grant. They could keep working. That's for the employees, Mr. President. That's for the employees. And every day we wait, they don't get paid.

“Pass this bill, and the laid off employees would be available for sick leave, which they weren't when the bill came over from the House. Pass this bill today and the employee that was laid off last week could be available for two weeks of sick leave at today's salary. Pass this bill, and most Americans will get $1,200 per person, $2,400 a couple, $500 more for a child. They would get it one day sooner if you would have passed this bill last night.

“These are not controversial proposals on the Collins, Rubio, Cardin, Shaheen proposal. I happened to be watching Robert Reich, the former labor secretary for President Clinton, about as far on the left as anybody goes. Someone asked him, ‘What is the best single thing Congress could do to help workers get their money and be paid?’ He said exactly what the Collins, Rubio, Cardin, Shaheen proposal would do—loan money to those with 500 and less, and let them keep working.

“And as for this business about big corporations. Darden is a big corporation. It owns lots of restaurants. Gaylord is a big corporation. It owns Opryland. If it has a credit problem and the Federal Reserve Board can make sure it has enough money to stay in business, all the people who work at the Grand ole' Opry can continue to have jobs. If they don't, they will be out of work. Now, what's wrong with that?

“I mean, the goal of that, whether you work for a big company or a little company, you're still an American citizen—whether you work for FedEx or the local diner. And, as far as solving the problem of the disease, and then I will let others speak, Pass this bill, and one day sooner, we would have $10 billion to accelerate treatments—treatments are what we need to accelerate vaccines, and vaccines are what we eventually need. Pass this bill, and we would have $75 billion for hospitals, $10 billion for those diagnostic treatments I just mentioned, and $1.7 billion to buy more masks. All of that can happen one day sooner if the other side weren’t trying to attach its political agenda to a crisis bill. This is no time to be running a political campaign.

“As the majority leader said, the House, dominated by Democrats, sent us their ideas. We passed it through without a single amendment, even though we didn't agree with many of their ideas. We worked for days with our counterparts on the Democratic side and have proposed a bill with their ideas, such as unemployment compensation—$600 per person. That's twice as much as you get in unemployment compensation without this bill in Tennessee.

“So finally, I would say, Mr. President, pass this bill, and one day sooner a Tennessee worker, instead of getting $326 a week would get nearly $1,000 a week if he or she has been laid off. There is no excuse for delaying getting on this bill.”

Alexander spoke on the Senate floor yesterday about the collection of Republican and Democrat senators’ ideas that he said will “generate trillions in economic support to help keep employees on payrolls and to relieve Tennesseans’ – and all Americans’ – financial burden while containing COVID-19.

“The legislation has three goals,” he said, “One, keep payroll checks coming to workers during the crisis; two, relieve financial burdens on Americans during the crisis; and, three, contain the disease.”