Lankford blasts continued “We’re Close” attitude on COVID-19 bill while Oklahomans struggle

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned in frustration why the Senate cannot seem to get beyond the “2-yard line” on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to finally get the much-needed aid and economic stimulus money to small businesses, families, and individuals in Oklahoma and around the nation.

Lankford highlighted several Oklahomans’ phone calls to his office recently about how the Senate’s inability to efficiently pass the CARES Act has caused uncertainty, confusion, and even tears as businesses struggle to keep their doors open and families worry about utility payments and much more. Lankford called directly on his colleagues to get the bill done so Oklahomans and the entire nation can continue to focus on the health implications of the coronavirus and how to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.

Lankford offered an amendment to the CARES Act to ensure Americans who give generously to charities this year can deduct some of their donations from their taxes to help encourage giving, especially in this time of crisis.

Transcript

Eight days ago we started the process of trying to be able to pull together this economic bill. Eight days ago—we’ve been in continuous session every day since then—it was our belief that we would vote on this bill two days ago on Sunday. The negotiations have gone on for this entire eight-daytime period, Republicans and Democrats meeting together every day, working through the process. Republican chairmen, Democratic ranking members, sharing ideas. Eight days ago Senator Schumer presented a list ten pages long of ideas and priorities that the Democrats wanted to be able to include in the economic relief package. Multiple of those areas are included in this final package,

in this compiled package it had all come together and was all headed towards trying to vote on it on Sunday, and then Sunday happened that it was ‘we’re close.’ That wasn’t the answer ‘we’re voting on it.’ It was suddenly the negotiations are, ‘we’re close,’ and a whole new set of priorities suddenly appeared from our Senate Democratic colleagues that said ‘Well, we’ve got a few more things that we’re trying to do and a few more things that we want to evaluate.’ ‘We’re close’ is all we heard. We thought we were done. For the sake of the American people we need to be done.

We have folks at home across the entire country that are trying to figure out if they can get a loan, if they can keep their business going, if they can pay their employees. They have no income coming, and all that is coming out of this body is ‘We’re close. We have a few more things that we want to discuss.’ Here is a sample of the calls that I got yesterday. A lady from southwest Oklahoma called yesterday literally in tears saying that she has a small business, and there’s little to no business going on right now with no cash flow, and she doesn’t know about she and her husband’s retirement. And she doesn’t know why the bill didn’t pass yesterday. And all we could say to her was, ‘We don’t know either,’ because it was suddenly a new set of issues that seemed to be all day long Sunday, Monday, and now we’re deep into Tuesday and we still can’t get a set of answers.

Painfully enough, I caught one of my Senate colleagues on the Democratic side and just asked, what is the problem? What is the holdup? Their answer was, ‘we’re compiling our list from everyone right now to try to get down to what our priorities are’. This was yesterday—Monday. We thought we would be done on Sunday, and all I could say back to them was, ‘you’re compiling your list? You still don’t even know what all you want to be able to include in this bill, and we’re just stalling and waiting until we can figure out what to do?’ We’ve been done, and now we’re stuck waiting for the other side to say, ‘I’m thinking of a few more things we want to include.’

I had a lady from southern Oklahoma who called me because the day care center where her daughter works is closed down. Doesn’t know what’s going to happen and wanted to know, she’s heard about this possibility of a check being sent out to every American. That would sure be helpful right now and wanted to know when that was coming. All I could say was, I don’t know. We’re waiting on our Democratic colleagues to finish compiling their list of the other things they want to add into this bill so we can even discuss it. All I can say is I keep hearing ‘we’re at the 2-yard line’ or ‘we’re this close.’ But we never seem to get past the 2-yard line. It’s always, we’re close. Folks at home don’t need we’re close. They need this done.

So let me just say real quick what’s in this bill and why it’s so important to us. Additional money for testing, additional money for work on vaccines, additional money on trying to be go through treatments, ventilators. Literally billions of dollars that go to hospitals and clinics and nursing homes and senior centers. One section of the bill has $75 billion, another section of the bill has $40 billion just for hospitals and for health care. The hospitals are all telling us the same thing, we need help and we need help right now. And I would say back to them, would love to except we seem to be parked on the 2-yard line while other folks are saying we’re close. We’re still thinking of a few other things we want to get in. There’s an immediate check that is supposed to go out to every American. To be able to provide some support for utilities, basic things because so many people are unemployed.

Those folks who are calling is, all I can say is I don’t know. All I know is we’re close because the other side wants to include a few more things they are thinking about on the list. Already in the bill is $250 million for unemployment insurance with an increase on the amount that would come on each check. Would love to get that started except we’re on the 2-yard line and we can’t seem to get past that because the other side is still making a list of the other things they want to include in the bill. So, we can’t get help to hospitals, we can’t get immediate support checks out the door, we can’t get additional unemployment insurance going because they were thinking about a few other things they want to add into the bill.

Already in the bill is help for small businesses, helping people retain their full salary if they work at a small business that is a business of 500 or less so that they can stay connected to their employer so when we get through this virus they actually have a job and they can continue their same salary. That’s an immediate offer. It’s not like the one that passed last week that small businesses are expected to pay for the coverage out of money they don’t have and someday the federal government will figure out a process to reimburse them. This is totally different. This is an immediate up front infusion into small businesses so they don’t have to come up with the cash.

It’s come up for them and for them to cover their employees. That helps their employees from having to go into unemployment insurance and helps the economy recover faster because they are able to come right back to it. I would love to them, go to your bank right now, your loan is ready. Except I can’t because the other side is thinking of more things they want to add into this bill.

While small businesses can’t make it through the week because of their cash flow because they’ve been forcibly closed, the other side’s thinking about a few more things that they want to add in. There’s help in this for nonprofits that are doing amazing work all over my state and they probably are in states all over the country right now. Nonprofits are out there that I talked to recently, homeless shelters but they are at max capacity, they are not allowing additional residences. The YMCA and YWCA are feeding youth in the community. The schools are stepping up doing remarkable work feeding folks. The free community clinic has had to close in some of my communities just because of COVID-19 and so they are trying to find ways to help out in other ways. The Hope Center that’s in Woodward is doing a drive-thru food distribution right now instead of having people come in so they are getting food to them.

We’ve got some of the youth and family service facilities that are doing amazing work right now but they cannot make payroll. They are needing some help.

Well, guess what, there’s help in this bill for those nonprofits to be able to keep their payroll going and to be able to keep going because we desperately need those nonprofits to still be table to provide that help in those communities. I would love to tell those nonprofits, help is on the way. But all I can tell them is, we’re on the 2-yard line waiting for the other side to determine a few more things that they still want to put into the bill. So it’s ready, maybe.

A lot of large business that’s employ a lot of people in my state — businesses that’s ploy a lot of people in my state are not asking for grants, though they would love to get those, obviously. They are asking for capital. They are asking for access to loans. They are asking for the opportunity to take out a loan and be able to make a payment. That’s in this bill.

It’s not a bailout for big companies in this bill. This bill provides an opportunity for medium and large companies to get access to credit so they can get a loan to carry their company through it. I would love to tell them you can go take out that loan, but I can’t because the other side is still thinking about a few other things that they want to do. And we’re waiting.

Time is important right now. And while one of my colleagues made a public statement yesterday saying this is a $2 trillion bill, we should really get it right. Oh, I agree, but this doesn’t seem to be a matter of making sure the text is correct.

All that I’ve heard for the last 48 hours is, there are a few more things we’re thinking about that we want to be able to get into the bill. Yesterday it was solar energy panels and solar credits, which I don’t know how it connects with COVID-19. It was forcing airlines to be carbon neutral by 2025. It was union representatives on corporate boards. It was limiting their ability for corporations to be able to have any kind of access to doing stock buybacks for the next 10 years.

All of those things may be fine to debate, why in the world are we holding up small businesses and holding up checks to individuals and cutting off support for nonprofits because we’re thinking about a few things like solar panels and carbon neutral foot prints for airlines? Why don’t we get this done? Because the time is important and people at home that have real lives and real families and a small business have no income coming in right now.

They have no cash flow and they are trying to pay their employees and figure out what’s going to happen next while the other side is think about something else — thinking about something else they might want to add to this this bill. Time for thinking through the details but in our office it’s a really difficult thing to continue to answer the phone and hear people say I don’t know how we stay open any longer. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you answer this call for me while you’re thinking about what else you might want a hotel owner in my state that just closed their doors while you’re thinking about what you want to do next.

I’m asking the other side, the bill already has these elements in it. And while i’m confident people will step out of negotiations at some point and say we miraculously saved the bill because we changed five lines in it and we added additional dollars into this account or this account was too low. We didn’t give $75 billion to hospitals. We gave a hundred billion to hospitals. Look, we fixed itand we didn’t give $10 billion to cities of what’s in there, we gave $15 billion so we saved it. But while you’re arguing about adding a few more dollars at the end of these different things, in the meantime small businesses and people across the country are saying ‘can I get the first dollar while you’re arguing about the 15-billionth dollar? Can I get some help now?

Time is important. Let’s stop pretending it’s not. It may not be to some folks in this room. It is to the four million folks in my state. We were ready on Sunday with this bill and thought we were voting on it to finish it. Now 48 hours later, the other side is still thinking about something they might want to add into this. Let’s vote.

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