WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today took to the Senate floor to discuss the Senate’s ongoing consideration of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which has now failed twice to receive the 60 votes needed to proceed due to partisan disagreements over a number of items—many of which Lankford cites as unrelated to the coronavirus—being negotiated. Lankford offered an amendment to help nonprofits by allowing charitable donation deductions on federal income taxes.
Last week, Lankford also addressed the Senate on the coronavirus and the need for the appropriate economic stimulus package to help American individuals, families, and small businesses.
Lankford continues to keep Oklahomans informed of the current resources available from the federal and state governments on the current issues page of his website, which can be found at https://www.lankford.senate.gov/issues.
We’re in an odd spot. Millions of people are gathered in their own homes trying to figure out what’s happening next, waiting for a virus to be able to die down. We have people in the hospital that are afraid because there is no tested treatment yet.
We have firefighters, we have law enforcement, we have hospital workers, all with not enough personal protection equipment because they don’t know who is a citizen without the virus and who is a citizen with the virus. The most basic decisions have become a distraction across the country as Americans have become afraid of a stranger and of a friend. This is a huge shift in where we are as a country. And what this demands is immediate action.
Three weeks ago this Senate and the House passed $8.3 billion, and we did it with overwhelming bipartisan support to be able to add additional funding for diagnostics, for testing, and for rapid work on a vaccine. All of that work is advancing quickly. We have human trials in a vaccine happening right now. We came together, and there weren’t extra things added to it we focus in on the virus. There’s no question there’s lots of moments to be able to debate the things we disagree on. But this is a moment we need to focus in on what is the problem. The problem is dealing with COVID-19. There was a bipartisan bill put together in the Senate. A week ago today, Senator Schumer release a 10-page list of ‘here are the things that the Democrats would like from the Senate,’ a ten-page, very detailed list. Twenty-eight of those items on that list are included in this bipartisan bill. Twenty-eight items from it. Of that 10-page list of items. So, much of that list that was released a week ago are included in that bipartisan bill. The Republican Chairman and Democratic Ranking Members of the committees of jurisdiction met and talked about this. The Chairman and the Ranking Member of Appropriations worked together on an appropriations package for a quarter of a trillion dollars on just that one section that they worked on together to get resolution. Put all those items together, and let me tell you what i mean by that.
$250 billion dealing with things as distant to believe as things like getting peace corps volunteers back home, away from where they are now. We’ve got to get them back home and away from harm’s way.
There’s money for hospitals trying to help them through this. Help for nursing homes, help for individual firefighters and departments,
$10 billion for community development block grants to be able to help cities as they’re rapidly trying to be able to work through this process.
$250 billion allocated just to things like that to be able to help people get testing, personal equipment, travel that they’ve got to do, additional expenses, teleworking capabilities that have to be done for city and federal entities.
All of those things were put together and agreed on. There is a lot of work on the medical side, rightfully so. Testing makes a world of difference. Getting access to vaccine. There’s billions of dollars in that area. All of that is included in this proposal. In addition to that, there’s direct payments that we have agreed upon to be able to send out literally to every American. We set for $1,200 for every American to be able to receive. That is a stopgap method to be able to help folks having trouble with their utilities or whatever it may be or extra expenses so they’ll have something.
But it wasn’t just that for the individuals. It was also unemployment insurance, and this is something that the republicans and democrats had worked on together to do a plus-up of unemployment insurance because we have millions of people suddenly unemployed with no advance warning at all. So there’s a significant increase in unemployment insurance that’s built into this. About $250 billion of additional put into that amount.
Small business, the goal is not to have people on unemployment. The goal is to have people employed. A very creative thing was built in this that I happened to be part of in the design. That was, small businesses, a business with 500 or fewer employees, could actual apply for a rapid loan. That loan would be given to them quickly and they could use that loan, if they used it for payroll, would be forgiven entirely. If they used it for their lease, it would be forgiven entirely.
The goal was to not have small business go out of business and keep employees currently correct connected to their employees. Not to put them on unemployment but to keep them employed they self the same system. Once we get through this view, they still have the same job. They’re not on unemployment and then later looking for a job. They’re able to keep their same job. We thought that was very significant. And it is a brand new strategy for how to be able to do this. A much better idea than just pushing people on unemployment, though we do have great aid for unemployment. That program is $350 billion.
Health care, hospital, first responders, that’s the first piece of this. Working on testing, vaccines. The second piece—direct payments to individuals, direct payments for unemployment insurance, then assistance for small businesses to stay in business and to help their employees stay connected to their business. And then on top of that, loans for the largest businesses of America—not a bailout. My Democratic colleagues keep saying over and over again, ‘this is a bailout for the biggest companies.’ It is loans for the largest of the companies, because you know what? They employ a lot of people. And we would like those businesses to also stay in business. All of that seemed to be going on well and negotiating well until the last 36 hours. It all blows up.
Here’s what I heard first: it’s not enough. It is $2 trillion! It’s $2 trillion! And it’s suddenly, well, it’s not enough. We need to plus this up to be even bigger. Suddenly it’s become this whole transition into the most random of things. Well, if a corporation gets a loan from the federal government, then someone here in Washington, DC, should be able to determine how that cooperation is run. We should be able to have a member on their board or a union representative on their board. We should be able to have some kind of stake in their board to be able to do that. We should be able—this was my favorite one—we should be able to tell the people: if they’re considering layoffs, someone here in DC should be able to go to the company, evaluate the rest of the their portfolio, and tell them other ways they can do their business besides laying people off. Are you kidding me? We’re now going to create a whole new federal bureaucracy that goes to every company if they take out any loan in this program and to be able to tell them how to manage the day-to-day operations of their company?
There was a requirement that every company had to do a $15 minimum wage from their company. There is a requirement they couldn’t do stock buybacks, and I have no problem with prohibiting the use of these loan dollars to use for stock buybacks. But that’s not the concept. The concept was for the next 10 years you can’t ever do stock buybacks on anything regardless if it’s with these loan funds. It became this bizarre shift into, ‘oh, we have an opportunity to run every company in America and tell them how to be able to operate and that became the goal.’ Then it became, ‘we need to also add solar grants. The latest proposal that just came out today was $600 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, $600 million, not connected to anything COVID. It was just they need a plus-up of an additional $600 million. For the National endowment for the Humanities.
The other one was that we need to have a forgiveness of all debt for the Post Office ever, all Post Office debt. That was just released today. The list is going on and on and on.
My frustration is: I have people at home that are suffering that are small businesses teetering on the edge about to go out of business trying to figure out if there’s going to be a proposal to come out of that senate while folks are discussing whether we need to do more solar grants and if we’re going to take over corporate boards and require a $15 minimum wage at the end of this. Can we just deal with COVID-19? Could we just deal with one thing, with COVID-19? And to say, ‘let’s help businesses and workers and families that are struggling.’ That’s what I thought we were trying to do with this bill. But now suddenly it seems to be everything but. Let’s just do that. And then there’s lots of time to be able to argue about the other issues. We can do those in the future. We’ll have the debate on solar panels, I promise. But let’s deal with COVID-19 and the families and individuals that are struggling and stop holding everything up trying to add one more thing in to say, ‘it’s a really big bill. I’m going to try to get my one piece.’
One thing that we worked on in a bipartisan way, Senator Coons and I, was working on this one area about nonprofits. They are part of our social safety net. Our communities are put together by our families and the people that walk alongside our families are local nonprofits, and when those can’t meet the needs, then government steps in to meet the needs. Our nonprofits are teetering on the edge right now. This bill allows the nonprofits to be a part of this whole focus on small businesses being able to get a loan and sustain their personnel. It also allows individuals that want to donate to local nonprofits to be able to write that off as an incentive for folks to be more engaged on that. That’s a reasonable proposal on how to be able to help. This is a bipartisan solution that Senator Coons and I have, but we can’t get to it and vote on it because we’re trying to be held up by some bizarre new thing that’s thrown in every couple of hours, that are unrelated to COVID-19 or the perpetual statement of, it’s only $2 trillion. It’s not enough.
This government is not even set up to be able to distribute $2 trillion. Let’s get this out the door. Let’s get something started, and let’s keep the battle going for the other things. But for the sake of our nonprofits, for sake of our small businesses, for the sake of people that want to stay employed, the people that are small business and restaurant owners and retail store owners, why don’t we get this vote on and stop delaying it, trying to add one more special interest something into it. I move that we get going and get this done. I’d encourage my colleagues on the other side to stop trying to renegotiate everything we’ve already negotiated and to stop adding one more thing. Let’s make the one more thing a vote.