U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed new COVID-19 relief legislation that was recently introduced by Senate Republicans. This legislation prioritizes assistance to helping the hardest-hit small businesses, getting students back to school, and providing additional resources to fight the coronavirus. Thune urged Senate Democrats to stop politicizing the coronavirus and prioritize the American people.
Excerpt of Thune’s remarks below:
“Mr. President, we got more good news about our economic recovery on Friday.
“The economy added 1.4 million jobs in August, and the unemployment rate fell again, to 8.4 percent.
“Now, Mr. President, let’s be clear: 8.4 percent is not where we want to be.
“But it is a tremendous improvement from where we were just four months ago, near the beginning of the pandemic, when the unemployment rate was 14.7 percent.
“And it is very encouraging to see the economy rebounding so quickly.
“The last time America went through a really rough time economically – during the first few years of the Obama-Biden administration – unemployment stayed high for years.
“In fact, during the Obama-Biden administration, America went through two solid years of unemployment above 9 percent.
“So it’s been great to see the economy rebounding at a rapid pace.
“Again, we’re still a long way from where we need and want to be.
“8.4 percent is not an acceptable unemployment rate.
“But we’re definitely on the right track.
“Mr. President, one reason our economy is rebounding quickly is because the economy was thriving before COVID came along.
“Republican tax reform and pro-growth policies had driven unemployment below 4 percent and created jobs and opportunities for Americans.
“Having the economy in a healthy position pre-COVID laid the groundwork for a strong recovery.
“And the policies we put in place during the early days of the pandemic to help businesses – particularly small businesses – survive the pandemic and keep workers on the payroll have gone a long way toward helping our economy rebound.
“Republicans are committed to building on those policies.
“But, as everyone knows, Democrats have so far blocked our efforts.
“Despite weeks of negotiating efforts from Republicans, Democrats refused to budge from their demands for a giant bill that would spend an irresponsible amount of taxpayer money and include a bunch of measures with no relation to the coronavirus crisis.
“But this week, Republicans are trying again.
“We’ve introduced a targeted bill focused on a few key coronavirus priorities – like helping the hardest-hit small businesses, getting kids and college students back to school, and providing additional health care resources to fight the virus.
“The Paycheck Protection Program Congress passed as part of the CARES Act back in March has played a key role in helping small businesses survive during the pandemic.
“The legislation we’ve introduced would authorize a second round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for the hardest hit small businesses.
“It would also simplify the loan forgiveness process for small businesses with Paycheck Protection Program loans of $150,000 or less.
“The virus has highlighted how much we rely on our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and I’m very pleased that our legislation includes an additional $20 billion in funding to allow the Department of Agriculture to continue to assist ag producers.
“Our legislation would also provide for an additional $300 per week – over and above regular unemployment benefits – for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
“Mr. President, our bill contains another important measure to help keep our recovery going and protect jobs, and that is liability protections.
“No matter how many precautions schools and businesses take, there is no way for them to completely eliminate all risk of employees, students, or customers contracting the virus.
“But that doesn’t matter to the army of trial lawyers itching to levy lawsuits against even the most careful schools and businesses.
“I don’t need to tell anybody that saddling businesses large and small with a bunch of frivolous lawsuits could seriously hamstring our economic recovery.
“There’s no question that schools and businesses should be liable for gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
“But businesses and schools that are taking every reasonable precaution to protect employees and students should not have to worry about facing lawsuits for virus transmission that they could not have prevented.
“In addition to providing schools with liability protections, our bill focuses on providing schools with the resources they need to get kids and teachers back in classrooms, safely.
“Our bill would help expand the educational options parents have for their children.
“And it would provide increased funding for child care during this crisis, so that parents who are trying to get back to work have a safe place to send their kids.
“Finally, our bill would provide more money for coronavirus testing and tracing and for the development of the therapies and vaccines we need to defeat this virus.
“And it would focus on building up state and national stockpiles of the medical resources needed for public health emergencies like the coronavirus.
“Mr. President, I’d like to think that Democrats would work with us to get a version of our legislation passed this week.
“While this bill may not address every current or future coronavirus need, it would go a long way toward helping with our most pressing needs – supporting jobs, getting kids and teachers back to school, and ensuring we have the medical resources necessary to fight the virus.
“Unfortunately, it’s become very clear that Democrats are more interested in keeping the coronavirus as a political issue than in actually fighting this virus.
“If Democrats were serious about coronavirus relief, they would be willing to negotiate with Republicans to arrive at a bill that both sides could agree to – and that could actually pass Congress.
“But they’ve made it very clear that reasonable negotiations are off the table.
“Instead, they’re content to see Americans suffer or our economic recovery slow in the hopes that they’ll be able to use the coronavirus as a political issue in November.
“It’s disappointing, Mr. President.
“But it’s not going to stop Republicans from continuing to try to pass coronavirus relief legislation.
“The American people are depending on us.
“And we’re going to do everything we can not to let them down.
“I hope at least some Democrats will decide that they should join us.”